Friday, August 31, 2012

Rose by Martin Sherman, on tour & at the Brewery this week, presents a searing critique of Jewish America and the effect it has had on modern Israel: “If that’s all gone isn’t that Hitler’s final victory?” asks Rose, finding her son and his stridently-converted wife consider the old Yiddish words embarrassing and allow them no place in their serious study of Hebrew. Rose is the flip side of the Jewish mother-in-law-joke coin, silenced by the certainties of the next generation. To her “There was always joy in not belonging – maybe God is a question like everything else.” Rose survived ghetto, prison camp and the 1947 Exodus, always longing for the promised land: now she questions Zionism, studies Buddha, and believes ‘knowledge is more important than pain’. Sadly, neither searing critique nor interesting characterisation arrive till Act 2, after an hour of hand-wringing bathos which precedes Rose’s arrival in America. But the packed audience, largely her contempories, were generous with their responses and clearly moved by the familiar saga of Jewish oppression. Despite the tragedies of Rose's multiple bereavements I found it hard to connect with the case-study approach of the first act: Only in the second act did this woman's loss of her dream homeland become suddenly real. Two hours is a lot of words for a monologue and it’s a rare actor who can not only memorise but also deliver so many lines as though afresh to each audience. Fiona York despite a rococo Jewish accent and as much arm movement as her static position would allow, didn’t quite manage that, and I whiled away long chunks of exposition musing on what could have been done to improve the set (removing it, I decided). Next time Red Kettle Theatre choose to explore oppression through theatre, I hope they choose a play from their native Ireland.
The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play, written when Queen Elizabeth, patron & fan of his earthy dramas, had been succeeded by a king who adored the magic, music and myth of Italian masques. Shakespeare added emotion to this mix, and created his marvellous allegory of rage and resolution through the power of love. This Theatre Royal Bath production thrills with every element. From the moment Prospero conjures elemental chaos as catalyst for his own inner storm, to his final violent abdication of power, this suberb production charms, entertains, and terrifies by turn. Tim Piggott-Smith is awesome as Prospero, making every familiar word seem a fresh thought, and the passion between Iris Roberts’ irresistible Miranda and her Ferdinand (Mark Quartley) is convincing as well as delightful as they crawl like babes towards their shared love. There’s comedy to best stand-up standard from Mark Hadfield’s Trinculo and his drinking companions, and a feast of spectacle: Ariel, looking like a Swinging Sixties postcard model and straddling his every scene whether on stilts or winged like a monstrous angel, Caliban a reptilian Prodigy, the sprites bizarrely costumed like extras in Scrubs as they watch the action like road-crash rubber-neckers (and even more bizarrely as they put shoes on their fists and river-dance them) the exquisite puppet sequence as goddesses come to bless the Miranda’s future union… I could go on. Dazzling direction by Adrian Noble and a superb cast make this one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen.

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