Wednesday 28 August 2019

Fleabag @ Wyndham's Theatre

Fleabag @ Wyndham's Theatre

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag is hilarious. But then, you knew that already.

The chances are you've already watched both series of the TV show based on this very play. Rarely does a show strike such a chord with the zeitgeist, its asides, meme-worthy moments and "hot priest" burned into the public's collective conscience. Fleabag is a phenomenon, catapulting Waller-Bridge into the stratosphere.

This play, then, is a chance to see where it all began. Originally performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013, it was later adapted into the TV series we know and love and arrives in London's West End for a limited run (and its last, with Hollywood knocking at Waller-Bridge's door). It means that you already know what happens here if you've seen the first series: the guinea pig themed cafe, meeting her sister at feminist talks, increasingly extreme sexual encounters, et al.

It's certainly interesting to spot differences, to see how the play was later adapted to the screen. Its story beats and jokes arrive in a different order but they're just as funny despite already knowing the punchlines. And that story still hits hard, with its themes of dealing with our mistakes in life, feelings of loneliness and worthlessness, feminism, the difficulties of (London) life in your 30s.

The way the script weaves these themes together and creeps up on you with both humour and sensitivity is genius. As a one-woman show (just Waller-Bridge, a chair and a spotlight) it's like one long aside to the camera, a window into Fleabag's intriguing life: raw, candid, and brutally honest. And she has a remarkable ability to deliver bathos, building us up before sidelining us with an amusing quip.

Even with its beautiful pacing and cleverly conversational structure, Waller-Bridge doesn't even need to speak to make us laugh. She has one of those malleable faces where a simple eyebrow movement is enough to have the audience in stitches; in full force, her facial expressions, storytelling and idiosyncratic delivery make for a unique experience that'll have you guffawing and questioning your life choices in equal measure.

But then, you knew all of that already, right? To see it live, though, is such a treat.


Watch: Fleabag runs at the Wyndham's Theatre until 14th September.

Fleabag @ Wyndham's Theatre
Photo: Matt Humphreys

Saturday 3 August 2019

Das Rheingold @ Arcola Theatre

Das Rheingold @ Arcola Theatre

Wagner's Das Rheingold, the first opera in his Ring Cycle, is an ambitious choice for this year's Grimeborn opera festival at the Arcola Theatre. His works are known for their extravagance: their lush orchestration, eccentric costumes and lavish sets. Yet the festival is an opportunity to see opera in a different light, in small venues with reduced casts and orchestras.

For some intimate operas this approach works, but for Wagner it eschews the composer's predilection for opulence. In this production, directed by Julia Burbach and designed by Bettina John, everything is paired back from the run time (just 100 minutes), to the staging and the orchestra. The result lacks some of the magic you'd expect.

The aim, it seems, is to bring out the human side of this drama - a potentially interesting take. Based heavily on German mythology (somewhat stolen from Norse mythology), it's a tale of gods and giants, maidens and golden treasure. Here that plays out as a contemporary class battle between the rich and poor, about how power corrupts. In a move similar to American Gods, these gods seemingly live among us as relatable people.

Yet with its simple black and white costumes and drab cardboard set, it all feels plain and unfinished, lacking that magical inventiveness you'd expect from such a story. The acting, meanwhile, retains a melodramatic flair more suited to a grand opera house. It's too much for such a small space, which bursts at the seams to contain the drama, the actors pacing constantly. There is no room to breathe.

What is impressive is the balance of the orchestra and the singers, conducted by Peter Selwyn. Though a little tentative and lacking in dynamic impact, the reduced orchestra makes a fine accompaniment to the singers. The vocal standard is mostly strong, though Marianne Vidal stands out as Fricka for her subtlety and control. Seth Carico is also likeable as the dwarf Alberich. But for all the production's melodrama, it lacks the required grandeur and emotive force to keep us engaged.


Watch: Das Rheingold runs at the Arcola Theatre as part of the Grimeborn Festival until 10th August.

Das Rheingold @ Arcola Theatre

Das Rheingold @ Arcola Theatre
Photos: Lidia Crisafulli