Blancheblanche marvin's london theatreviews

recommended by Peter Brook
**** = stand if necessary
*** = sit in front stalls
** = sit in back stalls
* = have a drink!


Modern Chinese Theatre at the Royal Court…..Elyse Dodgson impact on Chinese theatre 2018
In the Chinese theatre world, the director — not the playwright — dominated as the interpreter of the writer’s original concepts, different from the American and British contexts. Known Chinese playwrights, such as Zhu, felt directors and actors could easily change writers’ strenuous efforts, so that their work was no longer their own. They preferred working with the Americans or English believing that the final production would be more faithful to their intentions. In addition arts funding does not exist as in British systems which are independent of government or corporate interference. Chinese companies or state organisations offer funding to playwrights which leaves little room for free expression and is subject to change by the sponsor or organisation. China Ping Ju Theatre wrote a play about Qianmen pedestrian street, the Peking Opera Theatre wrote a play about Zhongguancun (equivalent to Silicon Valley), and Beijing People’s Art Theatre wrote a play about the city’s Financial Street. The first two theatres accepted 15 million yuan — but their required subjects proved a waste of money, talent and time.
Chinese playwrights previously lacked general knowledge about subjects outside of theatre, so necessary for potent writing. China’s best and most popular theatre studies are possible in specialised colleges, such as The Central Academy of Drama and Shanghai Theatre Academy, where education tends to focus on drama-related courses at the expense of holistic education…different from the United States, where the best programs are at universities with all-round education.
During the Republic of China (1912–1949) traditional forms of Chinese theater were still universally performed. International contacts led to new kinds of experiments and innovations in the big cities. The period's leading actor Mei Lanfang modernised traditional Peking operas (special theatre training still required for the actors) by adding completely new structures, such as the spoken drama or huaju and the song drama or geju. No tradition of spoken drama existed in China prior to the arrival of Western influence at the end of the 19th – early 20th centuries. The first production of Chinese spoken drama or huaju wasn’t created in China, but in Japan, where interest in Western theater bloomed earlier than in China. In 1907 young Chinese studying in Tokyo performed in La Dame Aux Camélias by Alexander Dumas fils which encouraged the student group, The Spring Willow Society, to stage Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher…..the beginning of the tradition of Chinese spoken drama, which also quickly spread to Shanghai. Chinese spoken drama was thus born among young students and in Japan because problems of the Chinese society (imperial administration unable to respond to Western commercial and political pressures) could be expressed via the Japanese reform movement, as well as elements from the Western ideologies and culture.
Shanghai was always special in its cosmopolitan mixture of people. In 1866 Shanghai there had been earlier spoken drama by Western amateur groups plus a western-styled theatre built by the western colonial community in 1908. The New Shanghai Stage introduced and pupularised the proscenium-arch theatre with a semi-circular stage in which design and new lighting technologies were used. But whose plays were performed? Young activists (many studied abroad) like May the Fourth Movement performed plays by realistic/naturalistic Western dramatists such as Björnson, Strindberg, Ibsen and Chekhov. New plays were then written, often designed to illustrate one central theme, such as, the oppression of women in China or social and political issues bolstering patriotism (especially during 1937–1945 War of Resistance against Japan and its occupation.) The audiences of huaju (spoken drama) were mainly for the educated elite with world-view and political ideology. But should new formats completely replace the traditional Chinese theater? Spoken drama already abandoned the stylised and symbolic theatricalism of traditional Chinese drama. Gradually it was accepted that these two traditions could live side by side. New plays with contemporary costumes were also performed as geju (song drama) using melodies and conventions from the Peking Opera, the Canton Opera and the Sichuan Opera. Gradually not only did directors have the last word over the writer, but so did the actor, with his/her technique based on Stanislavsky's method where expressing the “inner truth” of the character dominated. It has been the mainstay for important dramatists and educated urban audiences. Today, Beijing is regarded as home of the freest and liveliest theater scene, the most innovative theater in spoken drama, with emphasis on works by Western playwrights. Classic dramas or new adaptions of old stories have been easier to stage than original works. Liao Yimei’s Rhinoceros in Love, a 1999 play often taken as the starting point of China's contemporary theater boom, is now followed by Elyse Dodgson in setting up workshops with young Chinese writers to write their own plays on their own selected subjects guided by April De Angelis and Carl Miller as Royal Court playwright mentors. Harold Pinter's Betrayal, the Taiwan play Cao Qi Qiao, inspired by Eileen Chang's novel The Golden Cangue have been staged and leading musicals from the famous producers such as Cameron Macintosh have invaded the Chinese Theatre world. But to dig into a secure place for original contemporary playwrights, Chinese theatre needed the guided hands of Elyse Dodgson, Royal Court International Director, to develop such deeply rooted contemporary theatre. It is only the beginning, because unlike the influences of western theatre invading the Chinese culture, Elyse Dodgson reversed the dynamics by developing the voice of contemporary Chinese writers who begin their work in China and then keep evolving and developing it in London until it is ready for a UK production at the Royal Court where the dramaturg Graham Whybrow contributes his skills for a UK production, giving a world view of contemporary Chinese theatre. This adds to the development of such theatre in China. The international reputation enhances that development as well as being such a significant contribution in showing a contemporary cultural face to the outside world. Such is the innovative impact and hard work of Elyse Dodgson who suddenly died this year in October after her initial trip to Peru where she was setting up writing workshops. In 2005, she initially researched China and in 2016 – 2017, she set up workshops in Chengdu, Beijing and Wuzhen with 16 playwrights including Chen Sian, Zhang Zai, and Yang JinGguan whose new works were just given their first London reading at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. I heard only two of the plays but it reflected the original ideas of all those young writers. Babyface by Zhang Zai translated by Jeremy Tlang, and Salt City by Yang Jingguan translated by Sophie Gregg were both directed by Jude Christian and Sam Pritchard with international administrator Rachel Toogood and playwright mentors April De Angelis and Carl Miller. The British Council partnered this project. Writer Zhang Zai was born in Chengdu in the province of Sichuan but spent 7 years at Central Academy of Drama studying playwriting in Beijing and now writes scripts for a Beijing video blogger. This is her first play shown outside of the drama academy. Writer Zhang Zai was born in the Shandong province, educated at East China Normal University majoring in Chinese literature and now works in Shanghai for a film production company.
Babyface’s cast included Daniel York as Square Bracket, Siu-See Hung as Dot-dot, Richard Rees as her father, Wendy Kweh for stage directions. Salt City cast included Siu-Ss Hung as idiot girl, Kwong Loke as the father Gu Liangvheng, Kirsten Foster as his daughter, Owl Young as his son, Sarah Lam as mother, with Daniel York, Richard Rees, Wendy Kweh, Stephen Hoo as chorus of entrepreneurs. In Babyface, one finds very explicit sexual actions in the mode of today’s social behaviour…. the whole sense of it being so modern because of its freedom of actions. Within an hour, one follows the up-and-down relationship of Dot-dot with a married man named Square Bracquet….the getting together, the breakup, the physical contact and the years later when both have travelled their own paths. You absorb the tentative and then committed feelings of Dot-dot while you observe the passion of troubled Square whose guilt over his wife colours the relationship. The acting is so strong and characters so clearly defined, it reflects the influence of the Stanislavsky method. There is no holding back emotionally, a full performance is given. In Salt City there is less explicit realism and more delicate treatment of characters. Within 70 minutes, you discover the characters’ individual personalities. The people again are real. There is a family of a father, Gu Langchen, who is fascinated by an obviously mad young woman camping in an abandoned store and who keeps the home fires burning for his son Wang Kuan. Kuan thinks his book will make him famous and rich if his father gives him the money to publish. He can’t afford to expand from his low-paid job. Gu’s daughter Wang Yuan is full of fashion, endlessly purchasing clothes. She has lost her job and wants to return home. Brother and sister counter each other good naturedly, but one easily sees their sense of loss over their mother’s sudden and unexpected abandonment when they were young. The mad woman or girl is bright in her interest in science which entices Gu who obviously loves his children but seems philosophical at the loss of his wife. It is only when we see the mother at the end of the play as a flashback that this naturalistic play suddenly evolves into a dreamy fantasy and what was once real somehow disappears. Again the acting is powerful….with truth the dominant factor in performance. The direction of Sam Pritchard and Jude Christian concentrated on the performances so that one never felt actors were sitting on chairs reading from a script. The writing was made so alive, the author well served….thanks to the direction and performances. The playwrights should as satisisfied as the audience....for here is a balance of writer, director, and actor that breaks the Chinese mold of director/actor dominance over the playwright.
The terms of ongoing International works that the Royal Court is planning, as they continue the work of Elyse Dodgson are the following: the plays in development from China, work in development or under commission from Chile, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and Germany (exchange programmes in the planning with Russia and Germany), a production from Abhishek Majumdar whose work Elyse championed, the residency for European writers this summer, and writers groups underway in Japan (this year), Peru, Chile, and Palestine. Special bravos to Elyse Dodgson whose iniative work will be continued by the Royal Court as theatre brings the world together. Goodnight Elyse, your work is done, you have left such a huge legacy, sleep peacefully.

1..Huaju plays had only one act, but gradually came to include several acts as with well-known dramatist, Tian Han (1898–1968). His 1920 Death of a Famous Actor was a 3-act tragedy. In his libretto, Guan Hanqin, with modern Peking Opera, he portrays the life of a famous Yuan-dynasty dramatist set in a brothel where he rebels against Mongol rulers and imperial bureaucracy. Being a brave critic of social injustice led to his imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution.
2..Important dramatist for huaju is Cao Yu (1910–), best-known for 1933 tragedy Thunderstorm, about hardships of an authoritarian upper-class family, Sunset (1935), set in a brothel, and Desert (1937), a countryside play.
3..Best known huaju play is Teahouse (1957) by Lao She, an epic piece set in an old Peking teahouse, characterising the life of seventy individuals, covering half a century of their lives during the final period of the Qing Dynasty.
By BLANCHE MARVIN London Theatreviews

SIR PETER HALL'S MEMORIAL September 11, 2018
Theatre Colossus Sir Peter Hall, aged 86, the former director of the National Theatre and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, died September 11, 2017, and we now attend his memorial September 11, 2018. The Peter Hall Memorial is in II Acts, at Westminster Abbey and at the National Theatre. Icons from across the world have come together to pay tribute to the man once dubbed the 'architect of the entire edifice of modern theatre…. Peter Brook, Richard Eyre, Thelma Holt, Stephen Fry, Twiggy, Kenneth Branagh, Edward Fox, Imelda Staunton, Alan Yentob, Gerald Scarfe & Jane Asher, Melvyn Bragg, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Roger Allam, Elaine Paige, Nickolas Grace, Greg Hicks, Michael Pennington, Martin Shaw, on and on and on….a whole era of the great theatremakers, actors, writers, and technicians ….all came to pay their respects to the great English theatre impresario who helped establish the base of current English theatre.
From the pulpit at Westminster Abbey, his long-time friend and fellow director Trevor Nunn, quoted the words of Shakespeare's Hamlet, 'He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.' ‘This loss’, he said, ‘to the world of theatre, and indeed to the world, is immeasurable. From the moment I first encountered Sir Peter at Cambridge, I was ready to follow that man to the North Pole, to the dark side of the moon. The three most important performance companies in the land, led by the same person - 'how infinite in faculties'. And when he called action, 'how like an angel'.' David Suchet gave a performance as Salieri from Amadeus. Judi Dench read with compassion from Cleopatra’s death speech on Anthony from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatre. Vanessa Redgrave, who worked with Sir Peter in Stratford, on Broadway, and later alongside her daughter Joely Richardson in the Peter Hall Company gave an impassioned reading from the Corinthians. Playwright David Hare spoke on behalf of the assembled theatrical talents, saying: 'The best way we have to honour his memory, is try and give as much as he gave.' At the National, Ian McKellen performed a scene from Pinter’s No Man’s Land with Patrick Stewart who credited the director with 'transforming classical and modern UK theatre and giving me a career.’ Greg Hicks enacted the famous Greek tragedy adapted by Tony Harrison of The Oresteia… the list at the National covered production after production too numerous to mention.
The son of a Suffolk stationmaster and the grandson of a ratcatcher, Sir Peter spanned a career covering nearly 60 years and earned his reputation as a vital force in theatre as he worked with all of Britain's leading actors. First impacting the theatre world in 1955 with a groundbreaking introduction to Samuel Beckett's absurdist play Waiting for Godot, he went on to found & direct the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960, and achieved greatness at the RSC with his powerful War of the Roses which brought Shakespeare’s history plays into historical focus with the help of John Barton who was never bloodlessly academic with Shakespeare ‘s iambic pentameter. In 1973, he became director of the National Theatre which he had helped to establish and where he directed the original production of Amadeus in 1979. The celebrated director left the National Theatre in 1988, but continued to produce and direct Shakespeare‘s works, the European and English classics, operas, new avant-garde plays by forming the Peter Hall Company. Sir Peter was deeply involved in British theatre for half a century. He also oversaw the artistic direction of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, who reciprocated with performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Westminster Abbey memorial service. He was married four times producing six children. In order of age, the children offered prayers in celebration of his talents, and also to 'his undeniable humanity'. During the service, his family was hailed as 'the greatest of his ensemble. The theatrical titan is mourned by actress Leslie Caron, Sir Peter's first wife and their children Christopher, Lucy, and Jenny; second wife Georgia and their son Edward; third wife, opera singer Maria Ewing and their daughter Rebecca; Sir Peter's widow Nicki Frei and their daughter Emma.
The service was led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, who said in his Bidding: ' Today, we come to celebrate Sir Peter Hall’s life and his works and to give thanks to almighty God for the concentrated focus of his gifts and his extraordinary enrichment of the cultural life of our nation’. Prayers were led by the Reverend Christopher Stoltz, Minor Canon and Precentor, and said by Sir Peter's children, Christopher, Jenny, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca and Emma, and by the Venerable David Stanton, Canon in Residence. The service was sung by the Westminster Abbey Special Service Choir directed by James O'Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers while the Monteverdi Choir sang Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben by Johann Christoph Bach. In a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, the 'visionary' force behind the Royal Shakespeare Company was hailed as the 'great impresario and director of the age'. By Blanche Marvin MBE…London Theatreviews.

OBITUARY - JANET GLASS September 7th, 2018
Janet Glass peacefully passed away on 7th September 7th 2018 at St Charles Hospital ‘s Pembridge Hospice and Palliative Care Unit, of cancer at the age of 81, leaving behind a generously spirited sister to a devoted family of brother, sister, nieces and nephews, who live in Australia. Janet was known for her kindness, warmth, and deep intelligence by her clients. The Glass Agency represented internationally recognised icons such as Hermione Baddeley, Ron Moody, Roy Dotrice, Edward Woodward known star in the international success of The Equilizer, and current Jim Dale; writers the ilk of Robin Maugham's whose novels are in editions of more than 26 languages despite the homosexual overtones, Jean Cocteau, Rodney Ackland, William Douglas Home, plus current Marc Camoletti and Charles Dyer. While au fait in pursuing the trends of the day, she still held fast to classic traditions as she pursued revivals of these authors’ works despite the pressure of the changing times. Janet, with a pseudonym, translated the Eric Glass Agency’s French plays, some of which became huge successes. She not only helped bring fame and fortune to writers and actors, but had an integrity, humanity, and commitment to the arts. Her capacity to deal with the business aspects of being an agent, is just another step on her ladder of achievements. The list goes on to the current musicals, musicians and singers such as the hit-running musical Eugenius and singers Mario Frangoulis, Lorna Dallas, and Isla St. Clair who have all enjoyed Janet’s gift of involvement. There were famous productions at the National Theatre of Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles 1994; Rodney Ackland’s Asolute Hell 1995 starring Judy Dench + 2018 production; Robin Maugham’s Play Without Words adaptor Matthew Bourne 2002. In 2007 Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing played at Comedy Theatre, London. Credits continued on Broadway with Cocteau’s Indiscretions (Les Parents Terribles) at Barrymore Theater, NYC 1995; Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing at Longacre, NYC 2008 with Tony Awards-Best Play Revival /Best Actor.
She was not only an agent but also a friend and hostess to so many people with such pleasure-giving times for all. Her love of music and profound knowledge of it, her ability to analyze plays or a performance made Janet the unique combination of what she was. Her taste in the arts was derived from an era of respect and honour which is gradually changing but never with Janet who stood firm in what she believed. It was this Janet one loved. The Janet who carried on the agency which Eric Glass originated, the first agency committed to French and European new writers when it was ignored and considered foreign. The devotion between Eric and Janet never ceased as she continued on his knowledgeable path in all the arts. We have lost not only an endearing soul, a passionate and loyal friend, but a special lady who stood her ground against the rushing tide of social change and faced death with a quiet strength that ennobles the portrait of women. Goodbye, dear Janet, and may the wings of angels guide you on your way. ……….by Blanche Marvin MBE editor of London Theatreviews.

Reportage - Peter Brook Sur Un Fil - The Tightrope a film by Simon Brook
There is a new release in a DVD called Tightrope which is an intimate viewing of rehearsals on The Suit directed by Peter Brook. Considering that Peter Brook does not allow any viewing of his rehearsals, this is a major breakthrough that every drama department and college must have. He follows the exercise of actors doing sense memory on a rug that is made to be a tightrope which each actor must fully pursue with a truth and reality of walking on an actual tight-rope. Through this exercise Brook reaches into the essence of the actor who will then reach deep inside him or her self to feel the pressure of a tightrope and sustain balance. It’s worked on over and over again, repeated rhythmically. The other exercise is for actors to call out in sequence the correct numbers, one after each other. In this exercise the actor must listen to the other actors in order to follow. The point being that the performer doesn’t listen…he or she is only concerned with self. The real actor is not performing him or her self, but the truth of a character and must act and react to other actors in order to be truthful. Thus after watching these exercises one begins to understand where acting begins and performing ends. You can learn to discern the reality of good acting from this dvd. It is mesmerising to follow the truth which needs no decoration; it’s always simple and direct. The pleasure is in watching the exercises over and over again. And for the schools, for the actor, the director, it is a brilliant instruction. Let there be light on these rehearsals which Simon Brook has so sensitively shot without trying to be anything but truthful himself. Let there more and more and more. by blanche marvin
Reportage: ****Somerset Maugham’s The Breadwinner
The Orange Tree has a long history of producing almost forgotten plays from the past and proving their worth. With Githa Sowerby and GB Stern the focus was on the plight of women in the interwar years; Maugham's play shows men confronted by an existential crisis. Somerset Maugham’s The Breadwinner, first staged in 1930, is one of those gems. The Battle family lives comfortably in Golders Green. Charles Battle, a successful stockbroker has inculcated his children with his sense of smug entitlement. They and their spoiled cousins play tennis, indulge in dances and the latest jazz records. Patrick, the son and heir, is to go to Cambridge and thinks his Dad will buy a flat in Albemarle Street. He thinks parents should give an allowance of £250 a year to their children and retire or pass away quietly when they reach 40. Charles Battle goes bankrupt, and despite an offer of financial help, he chooses to reject it. Being fed up with his pampered family that he no longer loves and an empty lifestyle, he walks out on the lot of them. (Very much like his own life.) Gripping and perceptive as it may be, Maugham’s icy detachment is a deterent at times. Auriol Smith’s distinguished production cannot hide the quality of the writing in the play’s resolution which becomes mechanical and implausible. Ian Targett as the father captures the elation of a man who discovers freedom by facing disaster. Joseph Radcliffe as the obnoxious son, who has a fit on the tennis court which hasn’t been marked out, jeers at the older generation carrying on about the First World War in which his father served. Cate Debenham-Taylor indifferent wife more interested in her husband’s money than the man, Nathalie Buscombe as the warm-hearted affectionate daughter, and Mark Frost as a jolly family friend and solicitor round out the characters in the play. Current economic crises make this piece relevant, but this is also a play about postwar letdown, the sterility of the City, the emptiness and boredom of suburbia.