Monday, 23 May 2016

Theatre Review: The Judas Kiss, David Hare, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York

I first saw David Hare’s 1998 The Judas Kiss in 2012 at Hampstead Theatre in London. Four years on, the production, directed by Neil Armfield, has come to Brooklyn, with four of the seven-person cast unchanged, including Rupert Everett as a charismatic, but ultimately broken, Oscar Wilde.

The play is in two acts. The first is set in 1895, just before Wilde’s arrest and imprisonment. Robert Ross (Cal MacAninch) begs Wilde to flee the country while Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, (Charlie Rowe), pins his hopes on a last minute reprieve from the Home Office.

Everett and Rowe as Wilde and Bosie
The second act skips forward in time to after Wilde’s imprisonment, as he and Bosie live their last few months together in poverty and obscurity near Naples. Hare has more room for imaginative speculation here than in the first act, where much of the evening’s drama is a matter of historical record. His Bosie has moments of redemption, despite his general unreasonableness and it is left to him—not Wilde—to give a vocal defence of homosexuality, despite Wilde’s eloquence on the subject in the here elided trial.

In Act One, light relief comes from Wilde’s quips (delivered with panache by Everett) and the antics of the hotel staff (two of them begin the production in flagrante, setting the tone for a production that doesn’t shy away from repeated full frontal nudity). In Act Two, an Italian fisherman, Galileo (Tom Colley), plays a similar role, but, while the audience still titters, his tryst with Bosie has a darker edge, reflecting as it does on the now muted, and static, Wilde.

Jessie Hills, Elliot Balchin and Alister Cameron as the hotel staff
Watching the production again, four years on and in a very different theatre, many of my reactions were similar. Most notably, on both occasions, I found there was a predictability in Wilde’s character, and his witticisms, which makes the play feel familiar even to a first time viewer. Everett’s characterisation is spot on, but you can’t help but wonder about the play—what is this adding to our understanding of Wilde, his arrest and Victorian attitudes to ‘the love that dare not speak its name’? The first time I watched the play though, the tragedy of Ross’s character hit me much harder—watching in Brooklyn it definitely seemed this was the story of Wilde’s tragedy, and Rupert Everett’s play.

The Judas Kiss will be performed at BAM until June 12. You can purchase tickets here.

Do you know of any plays in NYC you think the Secret Victorianist should review? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Google+ or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Theatre Review: A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen, Theatre for a New Audience, Brooklyn, New York

In Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism, Toril Moi writes that Nora, protagonist of his 1879 A Doll’s House begins ‘by being a Hegelian mother and daughter’ but ‘ends by discovering that she too can be an individual, and that this can be done only if she relates to the society she lives in directly, and not indirectly through her husband’. In Arin Arbus’s traditionally costumed production, currently in repertory at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, it is this transformation that is most successfully wrought.

Maggie Lacey’s Nora flits around in the early scenes, restless and alternately charming and irritating as a child (which works well with the traverse staging). As the pressure on her intensifies, she becomes increasingly manic. She invades the personal space of her interlocutors (Thorwald, Christina and Dr Rank) and displays a greater self-consciousness of the effects she—and explicitly her attractiveness—can have on others. At the drama’s famous conclusion, Lacey plays Nora entirely still. She stands tall for the first time, unmoved by her husband Thorwald (John Douglas Thompson) and his protestations.

Maggie Lacey and John Douglas Thompson
This is always a challenge in A Doll’s House. The audience must feel that Nora’s departure—the rupturing of the middle class family unit—isn’t just plausible, but unavoidable. This production pulls it off but there is a slight shift in perspective in the final seconds. Rather than end the production with Nora slamming the door—presumably leaving the doll’s house for good—Arbus has her children, Ivar and Emmy (Ruben Almash and Jayla Lavender Nicholas), appear in the room to face the abandoned Thorwald.

The question of how a man like Thorwald could adapt to single parenthood might be an interesting one for modern audiences but it feels like a slight disservice to Ibsen’s vision, even if it isn’t the same ‘barbaric outrage’ that he complained of when A Doll’s House was adapted for the German stage. (In the German alternate ending Nora gives up her newly gained sense of personhood when confronted with the realities of her maternity).

The subplots didn’t quite have the impact they did in the previous A Doll’s House I was lucky enough to see—the Young Vic’s acclaimed 2013 production. Here, Dr Rank (Nigel Gore)’s impending death seemed something of a side note and the rekindling of Krogstad (Jesse J. Perez)’s relationship perfunctory. Yet overall TFANA’s A Doll’s House is well worth seeing. The leads are strong, the production is well designed, the colour-blind casting of a nineteenth-century play is a breath of fresh air and the spirit of Ibsen’s drama is undeniably captured.

A Doll’s House will be performed at TFANA until June 12th—you can purchase tickets here.

Do you know of any NYC productions you’d like the Secret Victorianist to review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Google+ or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Writing Drunkenness: A Master Class from William Makepeace Thackeray

Performing drunkenness is difficult. Ask most people to pretend to be intoxicated and they will stumble around, lurching far more dramatically than they ever have when actually drinking.

Writing drunkenness is similarly challenging. Readers must be aware that a character is inebriated, without the scene appearing unnecessarily exaggerated. If your POV character is drunk, you face even more problems. You can’t rely on wobbly camerawork as you might in a film but the narrative must still be filtered through a warped perspective.

In today’s blog post I’m going to examine three techniques Thackeray employs in Chapter VI of Vanity Fair (1847-8) to tell the story of Jos Sedley being a little the worse for wear at Vauxhall. Thackeray’s omniscient narration makes writing such a passage simpler than it might be to execute in a close third person, but writers in all POVs could employ these same techniques.

'Mr Joseph in a state of excitement'; illustration to Chapter VI of Vanity Fair

1. Name your Poison 

First up, remember that readers of novels are primed to read for ‘clues’ to future plot developments.

If heterosexual couples have sex, readers look for potential pregnancies. If a gun is mentioned, readers anticipate that it might go off. In the same way, any mention of alcohol will make readers more observant of any symptoms of intoxication.

That’s why Thackeray is specific about what Jos orders for the party at Vauxhall:

‘He made the salad; and uncorked the Champagne; and carved the chickens; and ate and drank the greater part of the refreshments on the tables. Finally, he insisted upon having a bowl of rack punch; everybody had rack punch at Vauxhall. "Waiter, rack punch."’


2. Concentrate on the Reactions of Others

Next, rather than describing the behaviour of the drunk person himself/herself, experiment with outlining the reactions of those surrounding him/her.

Drunk people are prone to creating something of a spectacle and often remain ignorant of how they are upsetting their companions. This is the sensation Jos causes at Vauxhall to the consternation of Osborne, Becky and Amelia:

‘[Jos] talked and laughed so loud as to bring scores of listeners round the box, much to the confusion of the innocent party within it…volunteering to sing a song (which he did in that maudlin high key peculiar to gentlemen in an inebriated state), he almost drew away the audience who were gathered round the musicians in the gilt scollop-shell, and received from his hearers a great deal of applause. "Brayvo, Fat un!" said one; "Angcore, Daniel Lambert!" said another; "What a figure for the tight-rope!" exclaimed another wag, to the inexpressible alarm of the ladies, and the great anger of Mr. Osborne.’


3. Show Progression

Finally, when you do come to describe the drunken character make sure there is some progression in his or her behaviour.

Drunk people are inconsistent. They can veer from exuberantly happy to miserable in a matter of moments. Make your character more volatile and emotionally susceptible than he/she would be usually.

Jos becomes a more aggressive lover when under the influence:

‘"Stop, my dearest diddle-diddle-darling," shouted Jos, now as bold as a lion, and clasping Miss Rebecca round the waist.’

His early exuberance is soon replaced by tears of sentimentality and regret:

‘Seizing Captain Dobbin's hand, and weeping in the most pitiful way, he confided to that gentleman the secret of his loves. He adored that girl who had just gone out; he had broken her heart, he knew he had, by his conduct; he would marry her next morning at St. George's, Hanover Square.'

And we learn the next day that at the end of the night he becomes violent, and finally helpless:

‘"He wanted to fight the 'ackney-coachman, sir. The Capting was obliged to bring him upstairs in his harms like a babby."’

Think about the stages of drunkenness, what they’ll reveal about your characters and how they might advance your plot.


What would you like the Secret Victorianist to write about next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Google+ or by tweeting @SVictorianist.