Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Review of Aristides - the Outcast Hero for Remotegoat

"A Story Everyone Should Hear"by Miranda Berry on 29/01/09

As the lights went down at Greenwich Playhouse, I prayed that Galleon Theatre's world premiere of "Aristides- the Outcast Hero" would be sufficiently engaging to make me forget how uncomfortable my seat was.

The script by Alice de Sousa efficiently told a story which I felt slightly embarrassed to have known nothing of previously. Perhaps most comprehensibly described as the Portuguese Oscar Schindler, we learned that in 1940 Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux, disobeyed the Fascist Portuguese government by helping anyone who needed a visa, regardless of their politics, religion or race. He was punished by that government for helping some 30,000 people escape the Nazis. De Sousa Mendez lost everything including his good name, while his government claimed credit for his humanitarian work.

On a minimalist set the penetrating, powerful music and sound brought Bruce Jamieson's eminently watchable, filmic production to life. The well styled 1940s costumes added to the impression that this was a professional fringe company with high production values.

No doubt the fake moustache featured early in the first half was historically accurate and it was certainly well matched to the actor's hair colour. However it had the unfortunate effect of bringing to mind the British Airmen in the back room of Cafe Renee, which really seemed highly inappropriate.

The ensemble cast worked well together, and were on the whole enjoyable to watch. Suzanne Goldberg, narrating as The Woman, effortlessly linked the scenes with brief historical synopses. In the title role Michael Hucks gave a solid performance of a man quietly defying an inhuman ruling to save tens of thousands of lives.

In including the less impressive aspects of de Souza Mendez's personal life, Alice de Sousa's script retains its credibility. I enjoyed the look of disbelief on the face of Hannah-Jane Pawsey's Joana, as she watched her pathetic middle aged father being taken in by a brash, flirty, French woman. Robert Paul gave a convincingly subtle portrayal of by-the-book Seabra. His self serving jobsworth even provided a few moments of light relief.

It would have been easy for this production to overindulgently tug at the heart strings given the subject matter, but thankfully the script moves swiftly and unsentimentally on just as a lump begins to form in your throat. This production is not without fault, however on opening night, I saw an exceptionally strong fringe production which will surely improve with time. Galleon Theatre are renowned for producing translations of Portuguese work, but this play has a much broader appeal, it is a story which everyone should hear.
Event Venues & Times
Showing until 22/02/09
Greenwich Playhouse Greenwich Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London, SE10 8JA

Monday, January 19, 2009

Excellent Performances, Lost in Translation

Review of “Well”, The Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue, London- until January 24th, 2009

I can see why this show was a hit on Broadway. Living in the States for two years, I learned that Americans are much more comfortable sharing their “issues” than we uptight Brits, in fact once they get started the sharing just keeps on coming. The latter part of this play is no exception to the rule.

At the opening of the piece Lisa, impressively played by Natalie Casey, tells us what the play is going to be about- “why some people get sick and then get well, and why other people stay sick”- like her mother. I’m not a fan of direct address but I push my irritation to one side as Casey’s engaging late twenties Jewish-American Lisa lays out her plan for the play she has written.

We soon learn that Lisa’s play is actually more about her relationship with her mother, played by the strikingly beautiful Sarah Miles, and ghosts of her childhood than perhaps even she herself realises.

The modest set successfully captures the liberal mother’s dwelling place and personality before Miles speaks a word. Custom made hospital beds are wheeled on by supporting actors as they enter for flashback scenes at Lisa’s allergy clinic.

The performances are universally strong. The supporting cast cope admirably with playing multi role and are at their most impressive in their more heightened castings. Unfortunately for them, some of the lines they have to deliver when their characters step out of the play within the play just don’t quite work in a British accent. The Jerry Springer-like cheesy honesty of the words leave us Brits shuffling uncomfortably in our seats.

“Well” is at its funniest and also its most poignant when it makes its point subtly. It does have some good points to make, but they are largely lost in self indulgence and heightened drama later in the play.

Casey’s performance is outstanding. Convincingly Jewish American in attitude, stance, mannerism and almost in accent, she definitely deserves a critical nod. God only knows how such a great actress got through the Hollyoaks casting net and on to the show.

While I was clearly not alone in finding the “Oh s**t, there’s an audience there” moments unbearable, this play is worth seeing if only for the excellent performances. It’s just a shame that once again, in London’s West End, not one of the cast manages a consistently good U.S. accent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Feel Some Job App. Rage Coming On….

After eight happy years of working my a** off in a parallel universe of a profession where the minimum wage doesn’t exist, I strode out in to the real world to seek my fortune (or at least upward of £10,000 p/a).

As I dipped my toe in to conventional life I looked forward to a world where you could earn a decent wage and progress through hard work and talent and not because of who you knew.

Of course logic dictates that if someone known to a company has applied for a job and they are as qualified as the other applicants then they are still more likely to get it- that’s how it works in any industry. That being the case, though, wouldn’t it be considerate to make application forms less epic for those of us who could be wasting our time?

Yes, I genuinely do “support the ideal of an ethnically diverse workplace” (or however it happens to be worded), but to make me tell you why, and to make such an issue of it is patronising both to me and to ethnic minorities. Anyone who doesn’t support it is going to lie anyway, so why ask?

On the same note, I am sure that many “examples of troubles you experienced within a team, and how you overcame them” contain more fantasy than Disneyland and porn put together. Unless the application is for a creative writing post what’s the point? Keep it simple: here’s what I’ve done (work experience), here’s why I’d be good at the job (covering letter), ask my old boss (references). Easy!

A well known job seeking website recently left me seething by changing the font of various sections of my CV no matter which method I used to input it. When applying to companies directly by way of their own application forms, three times out of five the forms will be in read only format, or become disfigured when you start filling them in. Is this part of the test? I’m not applying for an IT job!

Thank god I have a good temping agency to keep me afloat. I can just about see the funny side of how unimpressive the people we are trying to impress are. For anyone desperately searching for work to make ends meet, these ridiculous frustrations must seem like the final insult.