Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Theatre in the Rocks: The Minack Theatre

The Minack Theatre is one of the most beautiful spaces I've ever seen.  I may seem to be exaggerating, but every piece of that theatre from the landscaping, to the overlook of the ocean to the theatre itself cut into the cliffs is just breathtaking. I can't even imagine what it's like to perform there, but it must be an absolute thrill. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to witness this first hand, but the next time I'm in England, it's on the top of my to-do list. 

So,  you may be wondering what makes this space so special? Well, the Minack Theatre, in Porthcurno Cornwall, is one of the world's leading outdoor theaters.  It was built over the course of two years in the early 1930s by Rowena Cade. She and her gardener, Billy Rawlings moved boulders and granite to build the stage and the terraces.  Their goal was to give theater troupes a place to perform Shakespeare's The Tempest.  Can you even imagine a more inspired place to perform this play than on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean? 

Over the years, what was only supposed to house The Tempest, has seen productions of hundreds of amateur, as well as professional shows.  Because the theatre is out in the elements, their season runs from about Spring to early Fall, with a few special one-off productions in the winter months - which I'm sure are quite chilly for audience goers and artists alike. Each show only runs for about a week, so in a season they run close to two dozen productions, which is a pretty impressive fete.

The day we toured the theatre, it was sunny and gorgeous.  This mean that every single seat was sitting directly in the sun.  I'm assuming anyone that had the pleasure of seeing a show that week left with a pretty good sunburn along with their playbills, to remember their visit. Though, in my opinion, it so would have been worth it. 

What I loved most about this theatre were the small touches that make the Minack so much more than just a theatre carved into the rocks.  For starters, the names of most of the productions that have run there, are carved into the stone seats.  It creates a visual timeline of what these artists have created over the years.  Then of course, there's the unbelievably gorgeous gardens surrounding the theatre.  You don't often think of succulents and cacti residing in Cornwall, but they're everywhere at the Minack.  The colors of these plants, mixed with the reds and oranges of the flowers, added to the blues of the water, make for an absolutely stunning space. 

Lastly, there's the most important part of any theatre, the stage itself.  The small round stage contains doors leading out to the cliffs and ultimately the water below.  It's a beautiful detail, yet most likely terrifying for actors that are just learning the choreography for their shows. As a bit of a theatre nerd, I can only imagine the things these artists have accomplished on this stage over the years. 

As you can probably tell, I was a big fan of the Minack.  It's the perfect example of a new way to think about art.  The usual brick and mortar theatres are beautiful in their own right. However, having a theatre that also becomes a part of the show - like the Minack would have been for The Tempest - is an altogether exhilarating bonus for a night at the theatre.  And when that space is as beautiful as the Minack's space is, that experience would be pretty hard to resist. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

If They Had their Time Again

Groundhog Day Production Photo
I've never been a huge fan of movies or shows that are labeled as "boy" shows or movies.  I understand it's perfectly acceptable to be a fan even though I'm a girl, but I just don't enjoy them.  I do enjoy all the stereotypical girly things like love stories, romantic comedies, and the usual whodunnits.  This love of all things "girly" also applies to the theatre.  So it was a bit of a conundrum as to why I wanted to see Groundhog Day.  Because in the list of boy movies, that one falls pretty close to the top.  But Andy Karl's attitude toward the entire production in the wake of his injury was pretty uplifting.  After tearing his ACL 2 days before opening night, he could have left the production and no one would have faulted him.  But he stuck to his guns and his #ChampionsAdapt attitude, and blew audiences away.  

He was the sole reason I wanted to see this show.  Also, he's a Maryland guy - you have to support the hometown dudes.

After finally seeing it months after it premiered, I'd like to say that I loved it.  But I didn't.  I didn't hate it by any means, and Andy Karl & Barrett Doss are revelations who work their tails off the entire 2 hours - I still have no idea how Andy does what he does 8 shows a week, let alone how he did it on a torn ACL - but the show itself is a "boy" show, which as I said just doesn't thrill me. 

Here's my main issue.  The first act is hilariously funny.  Phil Connors is a bit of a jerk - played wonderfully by Andy Karl - and because he's a jerk, he gets sucked into a time loop which, as you can imagine, is a major drag for someone who wants to leave Punxsatauney so badly.  The entire act, is Phil living his day over and over to varying degrees of ridiculousness.  

Then things get weird.  Well, weirder than the song about Phil getting stranger and stranger advice from "medical professionals" which may entail someone referencing a particular body part of a rhinoceros...

The second act begins with a fairly sweet song sung by a minor character, that we've barely met.  It moves on to the murder of a groundhog (puppet, of course!) and Phil committing "suicide" multiple times in sequence.  To say things get dark is an understatement.  What was meant to be a lighthearted show based on a well-loved musical, devolved into something somber and violent before it went for straight up laughs again on it's way to the conclusion. The laughs were funny, don't get me wrong, but it's a little hard to laugh after witnessing about 10 different "suicides."  

Call me crazy, but I like my comedies funny, not depressing.

Now that's not to say that this show is entirely without its merits.  The entire cast is top notch.  I called out Andy Karl and Barrett Doss as the highlights, but every other actor was equally good.  The choreography in this show is incredibly intense.  Each actor should be applauded for the skill it takes to navigate that stage each night, while singing and acting.  It was definitely a sight to see.

The design choices were also a highlight for me.  Between a super-creative car chase sequence, to the use of Phil's hotel room, the set was not only beautiful but also functioned perfectly to move the story along.  I'm still marveling at two specific instances of Andy Karl apparently being in two places at once.  He sauntered off stage left, and was in bed centerstage 2 seconds later.  I have no idea how in the world they did it, which I secretly kinda love.

In the end, I loved the show in theory and I'm glad I had the chance to see it before it sadly closes next month.  The actors, and the choreography and the gorgeous design make this show into something special.  I only wish they would have spent a little more time on refining the story and the songs.  With that cast, and that creative team and a slightly less disjointed story - they would have been unstoppable.   

Thursday, August 10, 2017

But What Does it Mean?!

This was posted on all of Hamilton's social media feeds on Tuesday August 8th.  I'm fairly certain that the folks behind Hamilton knew exactly what they were doing when the posted it - basically working the entire fandom up into a frenzy.  What does it mean?!  How is Friday going to be, in Lin's own words, a #BitofaDay?  It's all so puzzling.  

As a member of this particular fandom, I have been pondering this very idea for the last few days.  And while I may be completely off base, I do have a few ideas.  I'm pretty sure, that whatever it is, will be something I never even thought of because if there's one thing the Hamilton-crew can do, it's definitely surprising their fan-base.

So, my thoughts, in no particular order but in increasing levels of ridiculousness...

~ Lin's making his return to Broadway playing the lead.  Javier Munoz is rocking the part, but maybe, just maybe Lin is missing his long locks so much that he's willing to step back in as Alexander.

~ The powers that be are finally allowing the fans to see the recorded version - either on television or BroadwayHD.  They've recouped their investment, dozens of times over I'm sure.  It's about time they give us the pleasure of seeing the original phenomenal cast.

~ They're making a Hamilton movie.  I'm not ready for this to happen, so I'm hoping this isn't the case.

~ Lastly, and most ridiculous of all - they're taking over the soon to be vacated Great Comet theatre (when they close next week) and are mounting a second Broadway production so more people can see it.  It would be a first but if anyone can sell out two theaters, it's Hamilton.  

Whatever the news, I'm sure it will be amazing, and surprising, and I'm positive that we fans, myself included, are willing to wait for it (see what I did there? : ) with baited breath, until tomorrow.  I can't wait to have my own #BitofaDay along with everyone else!

Taming the Dragon at Tintagel

I'm not what you would call outdoorsy.  I like being outdoors - but when I am, I prefer to be sitting on a patio and eating, or watching a show on an outdoor stage.  I am definitely not a fan of traipsing through any wooded areas or hiking up large hills.  I've never been camping but I'm pretty sure I'd just hate that too.  Though, somehow I found myself at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall doing most of these things that I've just claimed to hate.

Now, I'd like the record to reflect that before visiting Tintagel, I didn't know these things would be required of me.  I assumed it was a castle that I would look at, take some pictures of and then move on. That's what I get for not doing the proper research beforehand. However, if I had done the research, I would never have gone, and would not have had the awesome experience I had.  There's something to be said for being completely in the dark.

Tintagel Castle is said to be the birthplace of King Arthur, and as a fan of the legends of King Arthur and his knights, I was super excited to see the ruins.  When we arrived, it quickly became evident that my thoughts on the castle were slightly underestimated.  For starters, we walked about a half mile from the entrance point, just to get a peak of the castle grounds. The walk was downhill mostly and a piece of cake.

Then came the hard part - the treacherous trek up a mountain (a very large hill at least), then down some terrifying! steps that had been there since the dawn of time (not really, but you get the drift) and then a not badly constructed but still horrifying bridge over the sea. All of this was done in flip-flops. Don't judge me - I told you I wasn't outdoorsy.

We're doing it...
While I'm not particularly fearful of heights, when confronted with all of this, it's a little overwhelming.  But we did it - laughing (nervously) and snapping photos that were more and more beautiful the higher we climbed the whole time.  It's funny how empowered you feel after completing a task you never thought you would.  I was pretty ready to climb Ben Nevis by the time I got to the top of that castle.  Though, I wouldn't recommend the flip flops - they get really annoying on steep inclines.

We did it!
After exploring the ruins and the views, we were then tasked with traveling back down that treacherous path we had just climbed.  It didn't seem so bad though, this time around.  Ok, the steps seemed a bit steeper but we managed.  When we reached the bottom, the Jeep ride back up to our car was a luxury we owed to ourselves. How often do you get to go 4-wheeling through castle grounds with a small terrier and his family as your fellow passengers?  After all of that climbing, we deserved some fun!

In the end, Tintagel Castle was one of my very favorite experiences in England but it definitely didn't start out that way.  Had we not paid the fee to get on to the castle grounds, I would have turned around immediately upon gazing at that bridge.  But sometimes, the things that are the hardest and the scariest are the most meaningful.  And this was definitely one of those times.  The Arthurian legend seems to hang all over those castle ruins so maybe it was King Arthur or Merlin himself that helped me to tame that particular dragon. Whatever it was, I'm so happy it did!  Because the view from the top was something I'll never forget.

Tintagel Castle
Castle Road Tintagel PL34 0HE, UK

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Hamlet: To See or not To See?

Hamlet - Almeida Theatre
In 2015, I visited London.  In addition to all of the fun things we had planned for that trip, the main reason we chose to go during that summer was to see Benedict Cumberbatch play the role every actor wants to play: Hamlet.  I was fairly excited, as I loved his work on Sherlock, and couldn't imagine an actor more well-suited to the role.  To this day, I'm not quite sure what happened, but that version of Hamlet was the worst I've ever seen.  The production was too big, and too loud.  My main annoyance, at the top of a long list, was the production team's decision to move the "To be or not to be..." soliloquy to the very beginning of the show.  

The first words spoken on that stage were "To be or not to be...".  They changed the entire flow of the play, for what I can only assume was the desire to get Benedict on stage as quickly as possible.  I later heard that, after many complaints, they decided to move the speech back to its original spot in the text.  But, even without that major change, there were just too many issues with that particular production to allow me to enjoy it. 

So during this trip, when it was announced that Andrew Scott (Benedict's nemesis Moriarty on Sherlock) would be playing the role in London, we thought we should definitely give the bard another shot.  Andrew is a fabulous actor, just like Benedict, so we were sure that this production would be good.  And this time around, I'm happy to report that we were right. Andrew Scott's Hamlet was so much better than  Benedict's.  Not that Benedict was particularly bad as the Dane, but the production on a whole was just not something I enjoyed.

This current production is positively gorgeous! They realized that Shakespeare is better in more intimate settings.  The design team didn't go too big or too crazy with the staging, which really helped set the mood.  The stage itself was minimalist and just beautiful.  There are many allusions in Hamlet to glass and mirrors.  So as a nod to this, there was a plate glass wall separating the front half of the stage from the back.  And while dialogue was being spoken, action was taking place behind the glass wall, such as dancing or covert conversations between characters.  That design choice, added to the use of video cameras and hidden transmitters, really gave the audience a sense of voyeurism.  We were being treated to a reality show rather than a centuries old tragedy.

Andrew Scott who was breathtaking as Hamlet - I honestly couldn't take my eyes off of him the entire 3 hours & 45 minutes (Hamlet's a long one, folks!) - played into this idea of distorted reality as well with some of his smaller acting choices. There were pointed looks to the audience, and a bit of "overacting" during Hamlet's acting scene.  Anyone who has seen him as Moriarty knows he can do comedy well, and he used this strength as Hamlet fully. This Dane was a bit lighter and bit more sarcastic than any I've seen, which makes this classic character that much more watchable.

In this particular version, Hamlet and Ophelia's affair was explored a bit more than in others I've seen.  Most productions gloss over any real relationship the two characters may have had.  However, in this instance, you see the two interact and feel the love and fondness they have for each other.  Andrew and Jessica Brown Findlay, as Ophelia had believable chemistry, and you could see the warmth both felt for the other, which made the audience feel for Ophelia that much more.  

I could continue to go on and on about this masterful production, but I'm pretty sure you can see where I'm going to end up.  When Hamlet is embodied with such talented actors, and designed with such thought and attention to detail, you realize why it's the most well-known play in the world.  The tragedy of the Prince of Denmark has pretty much everything you want in a story - tragedy, comedy, love, loss, friendship, family.  And this team of actors and creatives shared every piece of this story beautifully.  And after that, in the words of Hamlet, "the rest is silence."