Thursday, 15 March 2012


On 27/2/12 we saw The Bee at the Soho. Japanese play about a respectable salaryman in the 1980s (presumably -- there are no mobile phones) who comes home one day to find that an escaped prisoner has seized his son and child at gunpoint. The police are surrounding his flat but seem incapable of resolving the situation. So he goes to the prisoner's home, seizes his wife and child, makes telephone contact with the police and, through them, with the prisoner and starts negotiating: "Let my family go or I'll cut off one of your son's finger". The prisoner retaliates, finger-for-finger, and the demands escalate. Meanwhile the salaryman has seduced the prisoner's wife, Stockholm-syndrome style: she waits on him, sleeps with him, offers up her child for mutilation. Very bleak; very Japanese. It takes a while for one's horror at what's happening to override one's initial sympathy for the salaryman, whose first reaction one is inclined to applaud. Interestingly, I can't remember how it ends, though by the conclusion the child is volunteering touchingly for mutilation. Played straight through without a break. Chiefly memorable for the performance of the astonishing Kathryn Hunter as the salaryman, opposite Hideki Noda (who also co-wrote and directed) playing the wife (Noda's a man). Glyn Pritchard and Clive Mendus played a succession of policemen and news reporters (and Pritchard plays the child, mute, in a baseball cap). Absurdist drama and disturbing, as victim and assailant end up morally equivalent. Clever rough-theatre staging, with lots of noodles (string in bowls), repetitive mime as hostage and hostage-taker go through a daily routine of visiting the bathroom, eating, sleeping together, the layout of the prisoner's apartment sketched in on an otherwise bare stage. Hunter sticks in the mind, as she usually does, and so do the parodies (rather acute) of newsmen at work; the other details have faded. Ed Vaizey the arts minister was in the row in front of us, a guest of the management: his face when he got up to leave was suitably inscrutable and I didn't dare ask him what he thought. But (I suspect) as a Tory minister he'd be delighted at all the awards this production's won in places like New York (where it travelled after its 2006 debut at the Soho: it's also going to or has been to Tokyo) but would struggle to justify spending public money on it to his constituents.

Here are some reviews. The Stage calls it "repellent and compelling", which is about right:

On 9/2/12 we were supposed to see Freedom at the Arcola but skipped it because the reviews were so bad.

On 13/2/12 we saw The Trial of Ubu at Hampstead, Simon Stephens' updating, if that's the word, of Alfred Jarry's play about an incontinent tyrant. It fell into three parts. Firstly, a retelling with Punch and Judy-type puppets of Jarry's original story of a greedy underling who seizes power from the king and runs a regime of slapstick slaughter and childish brutality; performed in a hole in an otherwise blank wall at the front of the stage. Second, Ubu's modern-day trial in some International Criminal Court, as seen through the eyes of two interpreters sitting side by side in their booth, taking turns to voice the words of lawyers and witnesses, their contrasting characters lightly sketched in, the impact of having to listen day after day to such disturbing testimony hinted at in their reactions, the passing of time suggested by heavy colds and by their comings and goings in different clothes with the passing of the seasons. Third, short scenes which take place to either side of the interpreters' booth, between Ubu and his jailer in his cell and between two lawyers in a smoking room outside the court. These last, it seemed to me, diluted the impact of the central section and I couldn't quite see why they were there, unless Stephens felt we needed to see the aged Ubu, who was indeed a compelling grotesque, a broken old man cadging cigarettes from his jailer but utterly without remorse, and then threw the lawyers in to make up the numbers. Ninety minutes played straight through. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Kate Duchene as the interpreters, Paul McCleary as Ubu, directed by Katie Mitchell (whose work I would always travel far to see and whose painstaking work on character I think was evident in those hints of the interpreters' off-stage lives and relationship, none of which seemed to be in the text), set by Lizzie Clachan.

Reviews here. Charles Spencer calls it "arty and tiresomely self-regarding" which is unfair, but I see why he says it:

On 16/2/12 we saw Tales of Hoffman at ENO.

On 18/2/12 we went to the new Turner Gallery on the seafront at Margate.

On 20/2/12 we saw Travelling Light at the Lyttelton (National Theatre).

On 24/2/12 we saw The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar.

On 27/2/12 we saw Murnau's Faust at the Royal Festival Hall with live accompaniment from the Philharmonia.

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