It’s hard to discover what Mr. Kolpert is all about without a deep delve. The King’s Head Theatre website is vague and general, with a hint of storyline though void of detail. The press release likewise and the programme totally barren. Therefore expect the unexpected must be the caveat and go with an open mind. A large and locked trunk, placed off-centre, forms the basis of what turns out to be a black comedy translated from German. Two couples at a dinner party, except there is no party to speak of and definitely no dinner prepared. Cue a bewildered pizza delivery boy and much talk of a dead body. Include lots of swearing and more than a little nudity for absolutely no reason whatever. Throw in a game of Botticelli and you have all the ingredients.
This play could be funny, except director Rachel Valentine Smith has made all the characters over-act, presumably to provide emphasis in a quest for laughs. Regrettably this strategy proves counter-productive and instead quickly becomes tedious. It’s hard to believe in any of these folks although occasionally that matters not in comedy. Indeed sometimes that is the very element that makes it work; John Cleese found perfection in Faulty Towers afterall, but here it falls a long way short. Damian Lynch as the temperance architect Bastian Mole who borders on schizophrenic, for instance, certainly lays on the violence and bad temperament well but chiefly in a shocking manner rather than humorously. Likewise, Ralf Droht (Edward Fulton), although more engagingly amusing, still somehow misses the mark. Both try hard, but appear hindered by heavy-handed direction. They are not helped either by a cumbersome script which relies on recycling the same few gags. You can only laugh so many times at a misunderstood telephone conversation about a take-away pizza order for example, otherwise the joke wears a bit thin, however much it is reinvented. Or does it? Perhaps I’m wrong about the script, for Mr Kolpert was afterall, well received Upstairs at the Royal Court in 2000 with Richard Wilson at the helm.
Violence and murder feature heavily as might be expected, but never with a wholesome sense of subtle macabre to turn this production truly black . The resulting combination of much projectile vomiting, thrown food and copious stage blood is pretty gruesome however, but makes for a very slippery stage during the second half, causing the cast a few slips but thankfully never a fall. My advice is not to sit in the front row with good clothes or nice shoes on and don’t even think about asking what’s in the trunk!
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
15th July - 5th August 2012
King’s Head Theatre, London, N1.
Having seen several comedic plays in my time, I had high hopes for David Crook’s The Truth-Teller. The subject matter it promised to tackle was intriguing, and if executed well, could be a real eye-opener.
The complex relationship between truth and untruths, and how both these things can affect human relationships is the central theme running through Svetlana Dimcovic’s tight production. Lead character Jonathan is a compulsive liar, which drives his partner Mary to try and end their relationship several times over, begging him to change his ways. What we see over the next 90 minutes is the result of his attempts to obey her wishes.
Some scenes do drag, in particular the scenes with Jonathan and his therapist Shane, which focus a little too much on complex dialogue as a catalyst for the comedy, the comedy worked much better when it was more overt. Notable performances come from Sammy Kissin and Naveed Khan, who play the receptionist and convenience store owner respectively; every scene with them is a delight.
The small space of the Kings Head Theatre and limited use of props works well, although the main characters moving the set pieces around themselves between scenes proved mildly distracting at times.
To tell the truth it took me a while to warm to some of the characters and immerse myself fully in the plot. However, the fact is that I, and the entire audience, were laughing heartily within three minutes of the opening scene, and thats an achievement not to be sniffed at.
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By Caroline Cronin @CazCronin
16th April - 6th May 2012
The King’s Head Theatre, London, N1.
Updated from Bizet’s original 19th Century Seville setting, this modern day rendering of Carmen regularly misfires, and in fact loses much relevance in this damp attempt at revitalising the opera for a new audience.
In Rodula Gaitanou and Ben Cooper’s new English version, Carmen (played by both Christina Gill and Flora McIntosh during the run) becomes an American soul diva character, reminiscent of Tina Turner, who is living with her friends in a bohemian apartment in 21st Century North London. Despite some impressive vocal chops from Carmen on press night, something doesn’t quite ‘wash’ about the new and illogical character interpretation.
Don Jose (Andrew Bain and Christopher Diffey) now becomes a security guard, another bewildering decision which luckily does not detract too much from the narrative. Despite being sung well, his relationship with Carmen seems forced and unconvincing. Escamillo (Nicolas Dwyer and Simon Meadows), is well cast and portrays the role with appropriate dark, brooding and villainous attack. With a strong baritone voice, he is perhaps (along with the female supporting roles) the best thing about this production. The supporting female roles of Mercedes and Frasquita (Olivia Barry, Fleur de Brau) are vibrantly played with nice comic touches and excellent two-part harmony; it is a pleasure to hear these two young ladies sing. Accompanied on piano and Spanish guitar, the condensing of the musical arrangement often works well in such a small venue as the King’s Head – itself a charming pub theatre.
It has taken two different designers to come up with the endless amounts of clutter and fairy lights which fill the tiny playing space, and often seems to get in the way of performers.
The character of Micaela has disappeared altogether, perhaps because of time constraints and to focus entirely on Carmen’s role as seductress and tragic heroin of a drug scandal involving excessive amounts of cocaine smuggling. This condensing of the plot does indeed work, however not for purists. Director Rodula Gaitanou’s staging is predictable and only sometimes effective, often detracting from action.
I entirely agree with the updating and revisions of older theatrical works, plays or opera, and why not? Social and historical factors have long since changed from when Bizet composed Carmen, or The Bard penned his works – which are unashamedly and constantly ‘messed around’ with. Creativity and imagination are only to be encouraged when a company attempts to breathe life into such a piece, but these decisions must be done with caution.
Reduced to two 45 minute acts, the total running time is 1 hour 50 minutes – a nice and digestible size for either people who don’t do opera, or who haven’t attended one before. For the latter, this new adaptation is wholly accessible – a shame then that this may well discourage anyone from revisiting a production of Carmen in the near future.
Unfortunately, this fine voiced cast struggle through and are let down by this flawed concept.
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By Matthew Ilife @matthew_iliffe
3rd April - 12th May 2012
The King’s Head Theatre, London, N1.