Friday, 17 March 2017

'tis enough, 'twill serve

And so to the theatre. In the film "What's New Pussycat", mostly remembered now for its theme song, Peter Sellers plays a psychoanalyst (inevitably Austrian thereby allowing him to do it in an 'amusing' accent) and Peter O'Toole a patient seeking a cure for compulsive womanising (a). Arriving at a strip club O'Toole is surprised to meet Sellers already in the place and asks him why he is there, resulting in the following exchange:

Dr. Fritz Fassbender: I, uh, decided to follow you here.
Michael James: If you followed me here, how did you contrive to be here before me?
Dr. Fritz Fassbender: I followed you... very fast.

Firstly, don't blame me, it was Woody Allen who wrote the jokes. And secondly, I acknowledge that this isn't all that relevant, even the bit about compulsive womanising. I was reminded of it however because a few days ago I wrote that I had seen a second production of Romeo and Juliet since visiting Verona, and now I can report that I have seen the first.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse (another connection: O'Toole - who was born and raised in Leeds despite claiming to be Irish - addressed the first meeting of the body which campaigned for the WYP's predecessor theatre) have put on a production of the play strangely similar in outlook to the one I saw last weekend, though on a much grander scale and taking a bigger axe to the text and characters. It was set in the present in a Northern city that could be Leeds, full of feral young people behaving badly, albeit wearing more clothes than the average Leeds city centre reveller. I thought it worked well, with once again the Capulet party being a highlight. This time it was sci-fi themed fancy dress with Capulet himself appearing as Darth Vader, and the music being the extended remix version of "I Feel Love".

The musical interludes probably account for it being rather long, despite having fewer characters and less dialogue than usual. Gender swapping is the big Shakespearean trope of the moment and here they went for the Friar and Mercutio. Having been pleasantly surprised by seeing the latter very successfully played last year by near octogenarian Derek Jacobi, I had a similar reaction to now see the character played by a young, black woman. Indeed Elexi Walker's outgoing performance - you wouldn't believe where she put the torch while telling Romeo that he must dance - was the highlight of the play for me and things fell off quite noticeably after her death. Mention must also be made of Lawrence Walker as Benvolio (lots of actors sharing surnames here, including, rather disturbingly, the two leads) who gained more prominence than he otherwise might, partly by taking over Balthasar's lines as well as his own, partly by going to the ball dressed as Buzz Lightyear, but also by being relentlessly jolly in a Brummy accent; I put it down to him having twigged that he's the only one who is going to come out of it alive.

"To infinity, and beyond"

Despite the fact that I didn't like the cuts they had made, nor the rather strange attempt at a feelgood ending - which funnily enough didn't work - overall this was a return to some sort of form at the Playhouse following recent disappointments.

(a) The film was apparently originally intended to star Warren Beatty and Groucho Marx; I think I'd have paid to see that.

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