Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Release the Hounds

June 30, 2010

Michelle Terry and Fiona Shaw
Photo: Catherine Ashmore/NT 2010

Usually, I would not write about seeing a performance via a remote broadcast, be it live, taped, HD, or what-have-you, because in some ways, I feel it’s cheating. No matter what anybody says, live and in person is never the same as in some movie theater somewhere. Granted for some shows the video experience may be the superior of the two options, but they aren't equivalent. However that being said, I did attend one of the live broadcasts from Britain’s National Theater this week and wanted to mention it since broadcasts of the same performance will occur all around the San Francisco Bay area throughout July and it is a show absolutely worth seeing, even under less-than-live circumstances. The production in question is an updated revival of Dion Boucicault’s London Assurance from 1841 in a staging under the direction of NT Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner. In pre-performance comments, Hytner downplayed the piece as little more than escapist Victorian comedy that had been tweaked for modern audiences. Usually when I hear such a proclamation, it means the show has been filled with cynical knowing winks to contemporary viewers with the broadest of gags heightened and placed front and center.

Simon Russell Beale
Photo: Catherine Ashmore/NT 2010

But Hytner’s verbal, witty and surprisingly physical take on a play unknown to virtually most people is incredibly funny and supremely enjoyable. And what is most admirable in a near perfect cast is that the physicality in the comedy is accomplished without slapstick. These are actors blessed with such expressive gestures and movement that just watching their bodies is a show in and of itself independent of the admittedly far-fetched plot. Simon Russell Beale’s turn as Sir Harcourt Courtly, the vain and ridiculous older suitor at the center of the story generates more laughs with his posture than I’ve seen some actors deliver in an entire performances. As Sir Courtly’s unexpected object of affection, Lady Gay Spanker, Fiona Shaw makes fox hunting sound funnier than it has any right to be. Shaw gives physical exuberance a whole new twist in this comedy of town and country. I don’t want to reveal much more, but if you live in the Bay Area you should check out the National Theater Live web site for a listing of theaters and showtimes in July and go see this broadcast. I am seriously tempted to drive up north myself for a second viewing given that the live broadcast was the only screening in this area. You’ve been warned and have no excuse to miss this.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter