Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There is No Bad Theatre in London

Like, seriously... knock on wood and all that, but I'm beginning to believe it. I just came out of another production that I did not want to see and ended up loving it (Frankenstein at the National Theatre.)
The funny thing is that I still think the story is terribly boring. I read the book in eighth grade and it was like torture, and I read it with two boys, too, so it's not just my ultra-girliness that kept me from enjoying a book about an ugly monster that kills people. But the production was so well done that I loved it.

The cast was amazing. Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement, Sherlock [on TV], The Other Boleyn Girl, Amazing Grace, etc.) played Frankenstein and he was fantastic. Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Dexter, and a lot of other stuff I don't recognise... and he was married to Angelina Jolie) played the Creature, and he was incredible- I respect him so much for doing the role as he did. Apparently, because the role of the Creature is so demanding, he and Cumberbatch switch off week. I heard as I walked out that Cumberbatch is better as the Creature, but I think Miller did a great job.

The two young boys who played William Frankenstein (Haydon Downing and Jared Richard) were great. Naomi Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, 28 Days Later) was really, really amazing as Elizabeth- she blew me away- and George Harris (Harry Potter, The Interpreter, Raiders of the Lost Ark) was great as the father. Lizzie Winkler was one of my favorites as Agatha de Lacey. It was just a wonderfully cast production.

The sets were simple yet did their jobs well. The lighting was fantastic- there was this accumulation of differently-sized lightbulbs and styles of lamps hanging above the audience and would flare whenever Frankenstein had an epiphany.

The production, aside from being good, was also surprising in many ways. The show began with a ten-minute long scene of the Creature basically learning how to walk and move... and since he's just been created, he was completely nude. This might be the American prude in me, but I was surprised because I've never seen a full nude scene done onstage. There was also the scene where Frankenstein presents the Creature with the woman counterpart he's made- again, the woman didn't have a stitch of clothing on. In less physical surprises, the stage had a rotating center, and they would constantly move the set around to allow literal trains to pass through, houses to appear and disappear... it was awesome.

There was a scene that didn't so much surprise me as scare me as an actor, which was Elizabeth's death scene. I didn't remember how she died in the book, since I read it so long ago, I just knew that she did and that it happened in her bedroom after her wedding to Frankenstein. So I was kind of surprised at the onstage rape scene... but the thing that freaked me out most was that the Creature killed her by snapping her neck. I know the stage tricks and I know it's controlled and how the noise was made... but I just can't help thinking how terrified I would be every night for that scene. There are so many ways that it could go wrong- even being an inch too close to your fellow actor can do actual damage. So scary, and the entire audience gasped when it happened. Also, the Creature has so many combat scenes that he must have to arrive at the theatre so many hours earlier to get all the fight calls (which is what they call it when you come to the theatre early and practice your fights. This happens before every single show, even if you have two in one day) in.

I also liked the show just because I am biased towards the venue. It is a life goal of mine to work at the National Theatre. Such amazing actors have worked there and they put on such high-quality productions.

I forget sometimes how casual the English are about going to see theatre. First of all, the age bracket is a lot broader. In America, it's usually just older people or theatre geeks who go to see theatre. Here, it's everyone. They also don't dress up. I've was sort of brought up, in the theatre world, to dress up for performances, especially evening shows, and now, as an actor, I see it as a mark of respect for the creative team and the art form; I'm a bit of a stickler for it, actually. This is not to say the English disrespect it- absolutely not- but they do wear jeans to the theatre.
They also eat during performances. This really bothers me- even more than not dressing up. Again, as an actor, I say no. A crinkling wrapper in the audience is incredibly distracting, and can you really not go for two hours without eating? And tonight, the girl next to me pulled out a jar of Nutella and a spoon and started eating it! At least she wasn't crinkling, I guess, though she was when she was digging into her bag of sunflower seeds.

Before I went to the theatre, I got a lot of work done today. I went to the gym, read a bit while I waited for Adrienne so I could let her in (she had forgotten her key), which was nice because I don't sit down and read very often anymore and it's a tragedy, went to the cafe and wrote/revised my play for a few hours, watched Proof with the script in front of me and took pages and pages of notes while crying (the story gets me every. single. time.) then got ready for the show. Hopefully tomorrow is half as productive.


Mrs. Flury said...

Rachel, I am certainly getting an education through your blog!

I have heard from others that the European approach to nudity is much more relaxed than the American view. Your experience seems to verify that. Is England considered "European" by the British?

No matter how relaxed the culture, any noise or motions that detract from a featured presentation are an unwelcome annoyance. Even if it's not considered rude, it's still inconsiderate to those who want to focus on the program. Agreed.

I've seen a shift from dressing up to more casual dress and jeans at church. At first, I felt it was a bit disrespectful, as you do about the theater attenders. You should dress your best to show honor. But, I've changed my view. Some people dress up just to "put on a show" of worship, but it isn't really a part of them. If people come to worship just as themselves, then perhaps their dress symbolizes that honoring God is an integral part of their lives (like their jeans). Of course, what's in the heart is not known to others. From what I've read of your experiences, it sounds as if theater-going is an integral part of Londoners' lives. No need to "put on a show" of going to see one because theater is such a part of who they are. What do you think? Could this be a good sign, or am I being idealistic?

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