Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blue sky days are over now. Long journey home began languorously in the posh lounge of San Francisco airport (courtesy of a musician friend who also works in the control tower) and ended with a bumpy landing direct into a war zone. Luckily however, World War II turns out to have been wildly funny and a little bit vulgar ~ at least in the slippery fingers of writer-performers Stu Mcloughlin and Howard Coggins. Adolf and Winston is the new show from Living Spit, the theatre company with a mission to "make poorly-researched historical comedy-drama about people that one of us vaguely looks like", on the grounds that Howard looks a bit like Churchill when wearing a bowler hat and a cigar. Even when that's all he does wear.
Because he's in the bath, following political events by phone, realistic crackle-on-the-line provided by a crisp packet. From 1939 to the outbreak of war there's insight into Hitler's invasion plan ~ Howard a camp Rudolf Hess as the F├╝hrer searches for ‘somewhere nobody gives a shit about’ (other than Wales) ~ and flashback with ukulele to his rejection by the Viennese Academy of Fine Art despite powerful self-expression in paintings entitled things like 'Jew with a knife in his skull.' We see Churchill haunted by the black dog of depression ~ Stu with a guitar and a fuzzy nose ~ rallying to England's call.  Insults between evil Hun and good Brit escalate into literal struggle for the spot-light until, abruptly time-aware, they decide to set a visible stop watch and tell ~ in a song ~ 'The story of the war in 15 minutes.' Ludicrous truncation brings success to the second: Howard as Mussolini, Stu with pan-brush moustache as Stalin, as Roosevelt, and in a splendid finale as 'the soon-to-be-dead dictator' in a bunker with Eva Braun, who looks remarkably like Howard, in a stomach-hurtingly funny suicide pact scene. The innovative comedy of Living Spit spills endlessly, but what's most impressive is their ability to create mercurial mood-change, terminating hilarity by producing Star of David armbands to share a genuinely moving moment of reflection on that unspeakable extermination. Clever set, witty props, great lighting, terrific musicality, no wonder the full house demanded three curtain calls, and I wish I could say still on at BOV basement, go see! but I was only just in time myself.

Is this the right time for a relaunch Strindberg's Miss Julie, a tragedy of stifled individualism from an era of rigid classism as harsh for the mistress as for the servants?  UK Touring Theatre think it is, and have spent a long time reworking the original script in a 'translation for the 21st century.' Unfortunately much of this accessibility comes across like a Carry On movie, an impression not erased by long sections of stage business with kitchen fittings. Reviewers have not been kind to the production, with one star from What's On Stage and mumblings of lack-lustre direction, clumsy translation, and some performances that wouldn't be out of place in an am-dram church hall production. He didn't think much of the sound, either. I'd agree about most of those, and throw in lighting design too, but I think good actors did the best they could with direction which, like the script, seemed over-forced into unreal realism. The result was a ponderous 'naturalism' swerving abruptly into mania, which is probably why the characters' fights were electric but their connection had no eroticism. It didn't help that Adam Redmayne was miscast as Jean, looking more Dick Van Dyke than Mellors. But, having said all that, it was a better way to spend the evening than anything on telly, and the Merlin audience were warm in their applause.

I was in America when Maria Miller made her debut speech as culture minister and, like the by-election results, found reports online depressing. "In an age of austerity, our focus must be on economic impact..." well, no. In any age the role of art for communities as for individuals is health not wealth ~ although of course by any standards other than capitalism, our health is our most valuable asset. I've started another blog (Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln...) specifically to write about theatre stuff, actually, so I'll post my further thoughts there...

... and end this posting with a last look at my Californian retreat. Lots of coastal walking ~ about two or three hours a day ~ and both my writing projects completed. And good news about two shorts reaching performance. My monologue In These Shoes is online here ~ thanks Clare Reddaway for that! ~ and The Human Angle will be in the IGNITE festival in Exeter on June 7th, produced by Jon Nash's excellent Ripped Script company from Salisbury. I hope to get to see this one!

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