Performance # 25 & 26: It’s Nice to Laugh

Once again I am pulling a double response. Last time I did this was with King Lear at the Old Vic. and The Red Barn at the National theatre. These two performances were both entertaining, but didn’t leave me with enough post-show thoughts or discussions to need to write two separate responses. On Saturday, December 10th , I saw a production of Kiki’s Delivery Service at the Southwark Playhouse. On Thursday, December 15th , I saw a production of The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales theatre. Although they were two extremely different stories, they were both very entertaining and full of spectacle on all levels.

Undeniably Un-magical

The Southwark Playhouse is a very small theatre space near the Elephant & Castle stop on the tube. It’s a nice diverse space with a great lobby, and a very good place to open more experimental pieces of theatre. Kiki’s Delivery Service was originally a Hayao Miyazaki movie released in 1989. It tells the story of a young witch, Kiki, who must find a town to live and work in for a year to prove that she is capable of being independent, it’s the rite of passage into womanhood for a young witch. The story was adapted and changed slightly for the stage version, but there were still many elements of the plot line that were kept the same. I was so excited to see how they dealt with the flying in this show. The first night we were supposed to see it the performance was cancelled due to “technological difficulties,” so I actually became even more excited for the flying technology. But come Saturday I was highly underwhelmed at the methods of flying throughout the show.

I wish they had just stuck to one or two flying methods, because it seemed like they used over 10 different flying techniques in a show a little over an hour. There was puppetry, there was a suspended cord, Flyers being held up by other cast members, projection, and pantomime, I believe. It seemed like the designers couldn’t really make up their minds which devise of flying they liked the best, so they just dabbled in several different styles. I think the lifting and the puppetry were the two most successful styles. Although the use of projection for the train scene was very nice, but I could still imagine puppetry working well for that scene. I liked the actors being lifted up by fellow actors because it kept the whimsical feeling of Miyazaki’s animation throughout the performance, while still making the flying look very cool. The pantomime was probably the lamest version of flying, because even though they had the sound and lighting effects, it was still so incredibly obvious that it was fake. Maybe that was partially due to the lack of “selling” from the woman playing Kiki, but I don’t think any actor could make that technique come to life.

During all of the “magical” scenes I started watching the kids in the audience to see if they were enjoying the show. As someone who was raised on the magic of children’s theatre, it’s very important to me that the kids believed in the show. Whenever I looked over I saw a lot of slumped bodies and distracted faces (cue disaster music). Oh no, the cardinal sin of children’s theatre-the child can never be BORED! I felt so bad for the kids, but I felt even worse for the parents who realized they’d paid way too much to be sitting for an hour…although maybe they were happy for a single hour of quiet. I think more magic could’ve been developed if they had stuck to a more concise concept for the show. Also, there really wasn’t any audience interaction even though it was in an extremely small black box theatre. I mean, come on, people! That’s half the fun of those small spaces! Oh well, they’re still in the early performances, so maybe it will develop more as time goes along.Although I am legally not a “kid” anymore, I was pretty bored too.  Because of my devised theatre class, I’ve been thinking about elements of shows that could be made more effectively in a more limited way. Sometimes we would create our best work in rehearsals because we were given extreme limitations. I felt like there was a lot of untapped moments of wonder that could’ve been created in a less technological setting. Create more limits = create more magic. With small theatres like this one I know they can’t afford to put much money into work-shopping a new piece of theatre, but unfortunately I think all this show needed was another six months or a year of work-shopping. It seemed like a first draft rather than a final performance, which is unfortunate for these guys.

Overall, meh. Kiki seemed really un-invested and bored throughout the whole show. Kiki is supposed to be a spry, awkward, and excitable thirteen-year-old. What I saw was a early to mid-twenty year old who wasn’t quite sure how to capture the essence of Kiki-there was a lot of awkwardness and a lot of pausing. The pausing, my goodness! It was almost as bad as Macbeth at the Globe. (I’m tellin’ you, it always comes back to Macbeth). Tombo, Kiki’s friend and kind of a love interest, was good, probably the best in the cast. He had a lot of energy and put some great character work into his smaller characters. He had the most energy and was the most entertaining to watch. He also was the one of the maybe two people who seemed really connected and invested to the show. Overall there was not a lot of connection in this ensemble, which was odd, because there were less than ten people in this cast. The sidekick cat, Jiji, is extremely sarcastic and sweet in the movie, similar to the cat in  the TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I liked the puppet as the cat, but they made the character pretty different from the movie. As an actor and director I understand wanting to make unique differences between the movie and the stage production, but you do somewhat need to stay close to the elements of the show in order for your audience to understand it. Not with all adaptations, but certainly with this one. The cat, Jiji, had some really funny moments! But it wasn’t the cat from the movie, it was another sarcastic magic black cat sidekick.

It was so sad to see one of my favorite childhood movies somewhat mishandled by this company, so I wish them the best of luck as they continue their performances. I really do hope it continues to grow and develop as they continue.

The Magic of Self-Confidence

I remember when The Book of Mormon became really popular when I was in high school, because I kept hearing these songs over and over and over and over from certain members of our theatre group at school. Fortunately these songs are pretty good, or else I might’ve snapped and crushed that boy’s scrawny little neck. The Book of Mormon was written by the same creators of the Comedy Central TV show South Park, which is a show all about pushing social limits and making jokes that offend more than entertain a lot of the time. I honestly really haven’t watched more than clips from this show, but I know I’m not the biggest fan of South Park. Although I greatly enjoy The Book of Mormon, this show must come with some Advisory Warnings: this show is not suitable for those under 16 (maybe 18 depending on your parenting style), those of extremely devout faith, or those who are easily offended on a lot of things. I guess I would just recommend researching the show a bit before you book your whole family tickets for a seemingly oddly educational show on the West End. What a surprise that would be, for sure. I had never seen this show performed before, so it was really nice to put the songs into context of the show.

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The Book of Mormon is about Elder Price, a young missionary in the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons), and his journey as he is sent to Uganda for his mission. There’s an extremely funny joke about this young man’s deep love for Disney World and Orlando, Florida that is brought up throughout the show. That was definitely a strength in the writing of this piece- there were several jokes that were perfectly brought up at random moments that made the joke even funnier. The script is almost “actor-proof,” which means that no matter the talent of the actor the script will still seem funny. It’s not that any of the actors were bad, it just seemed like a lot of the poor dears were plum tuckered out! I can’t imagine the exhaustion that performers have after a week of eight performances a week of a two-hour show. Just incredible! Unfortunately, a lot of these actors seemed really tired. Their energy wasn’t the same energy that you feel on an opening night, it was the forced energy of “please just let me get through this so I can go sleep after this.” However, there were some really great performances. Arnold, the sidekick, had this mouth that seemed to unhinge every time that he gleefully smiled at Elder, which was both funny and terrifying. Mostly terrifying, actually. Arnold had a really nice connection with the audience and was just a solid performer overall. He overplayed some bits that got old, but that could either be him or his director telling him to stick with whatever gets the laughs, so I wasn’t too angry. His love interest, a woman from the tribe, had a beautiful voice. Her face was a little out of it, I don’t know if she tried to make her seem spacey or if that was an unconscious choice. My favorite actor was the male lead of the ensemble, oh my goodness he was so good. He had so much energy and presence that I always sought him out on stage. He was a great example of taking a small role and making it one of the most memorable parts of the show. So if you’re a little miffed about your casting in a show, maybe look at it like a challenge rather than an insult. Never, never, try to upstage your leads, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put the same amount of work into it, right? I’m learning this lesson more and more every day.  A lot of times I wanted to watch him more than the lead, Elder! Elder had the perfect “All-American” look, but fell flat on stage for many of scenes. Elder was a strange one, because he did have some really funny moments, but he seemed pretty boring in comparison to a lot of the other actors, unfortunately. His voice was also very…uh…well, not only nasal, but also very constrained. We didn’t hear his vibrato until the second act of the show, and even then it was very conserved. An odd choice, but hey, I’m not the director. The Book of Mormon is a lot of fun, but beware of the extremely crass nature of the show.

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