Friday, 19 March 2010

Straight Plays. Yes look at me aren't I grown up...

Apologies for any dodgy typos, I'm typing this in the lab whilst running UV Vis spectra every 15 minute- not enough time to go away and do something else but enough time to get bored. UV Vis goes something like this; put sample in, press button, press button 15 minutes later and so on. I'm also wearing nitrile gloves which keep sticking to the keyboard and safety specs and a lab coat. Oh the glamour of Chemistry.

Dramsoc's production of Noises Off

So tonight, in order to both cheer myself up and pay them back for seeing our show, I saw Dramsoc's production of Noises Off- the comical farce that everyone seems to love. It was amazing! And absolutely hilarious (see Boeing Boeing, this is how you do comedy) I don't want to go into a full review as that is not the point of this post and I also don't like reviewing student shows as they tend to involve many of my friends. Past Dramsoc productions have left a little to be desired although this may be down to the choice of material and not the efforts of the society. They seem to flit between almost pantomime-standard fantasy type pieces where I'm left cringing at some of the casting decisions to well executed period pieces that are just a little dull (but do have spectacular sets). So Dramsoc have finally decided to return to what they do best- comedy. And I'm pleased, especially as this year's MTSoc was generally a lot less comedic than in past years.

I've been having a think about my history with plays (or as I tend to refer to them "straight plays" as technically a musical is a play too). My acting past shows a myriad of small plays usually written by our drama teacher that tended to be set in schools thus allowing for easily costumes and not much acting. From there I moved onto the school Christmas panto- a version of Peter Pan with tired jokes and eighties rock anthems. Not being blonde I was, of course, cast as Tiger Lily. After this, a select few were due to rehearse a serious piece about gambling called "High Stakes", I was to play the main characters' sister if the lead hadn't decided to not bother turning up to rehearsals. Thus ends my straight play acting life.
Daniel Radcliffe straddling a horse- nothing strange here, honest.

For a long time I really wasn't interested in seeing plays, I was musical theatre girl and anything without singing would just seem dull or pointless. Until I saw Equus. Yes I know, you think I went because of Daniel Radcliffe's penis and maybe I did but I came out barely having noticed it. What really struck me about the piece was how effective the spoken word (or even silence) could be. Emotions are heightened not by a song but by a facial expression or the way a line is delivered. I was really struck by how the entire story was presented within a small, simple setting with few props or colours to distract. This was acting at it's purist.

After that I began to pluck up the courage to see more plays, there has been the odd blooper- Happy Days, although an interesting concept and with the excellent Fiona Shaw as the lead, failed to capture my imagination. I don't think I'm quite at the age to understand Becket (plus I needed new glasses and so couldn't see everything), one day I'll realise the significance of his work but that day is not today. Another tick in the fail column would have to be Boeing Boeing- it just wasn't funny. Yes, Mark Rylance was good but I felt the cast were trying too hard to make themselves into caricatures. Yes you're going to tell me it was a farce but there's funny farce and there's cringey farce. This was cringey farce.

Future Doctor Matt Smith in That Face

So what have been some of those saving graces that have really made me see the reason behind theatre and encourage me to explore the world of the straight play? High up on my list is That Face, the first straight play I ever reviewed for Felix. It was a damningly honest tale of a family in turmoil over the mother's alcoholism culminating in a tragic scene in which her son (possibly the only level headed person in the play) loses it under the pressure of looking after his fragile mother. This son happened to be played by Matt Smith, now the new Doctor Who but at the time was a fresh young actor with bags of talent. The star name of the show was actually Lindsay Duncan, who isn't too well known outside theatre circles thus proving you don't need a celebrity to provide a brilliant and riveting play.

Another high point was The Viewing Room starring Leonard Roberts of Heroes and Buffy fame. Typecast as the strong silent type, Roberts, as the mysterious and slightly creepy prisoner, was able to break out of his niche and provide a captivating performance. I like it when actors do this; show the audience that they can be so much more than what we see on television, it's almost like a reward for theatregoers. Sheridan Smith as Elle Woods comes to mind as the perfect example of this category.

While a musical has to be big and happy to succeed in today's economic climate, there is more scope for creativity and the chance to explore darker themes in a play. I find it sad that musicals do not have the same opportunity to proceed forward, not every pop song or rock song or rap song is about the happier side of life so why should musical theatre songs have to be? My favourite songs are those about heartbreak or tragedy, they rip at your heartstrings and go somewhere a monologue in a play can't. I see plays because I'm interested in the subject matter or a specific performer. I see musicals because I'm interested in the writer or design. Have I really become so worn down by happy musicals or those with a lack of storyline that I no longer look for integrity and have to search further afield into the world of plays to find it?

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