Learning the Ropes

Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known entertainment universe.

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In these “interesting times” where we live, now and then I get an intuitive confirmation of the impressive prescience of certain twentieth century novelists; my latest was olfactory. Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World – he sure was right about genetic engineering – but do you remember the scene in the book where there is a public protest? The authorities rock up and instead of laying about the populus with strong arms as in cruder locales, they merely pump “soma”, the happy gas, into the vicinity. And while they are doing it they play a soothing voice-over.

“Friends… friends… friends” croons the voice in a tone at once loving and mildly, fraternally, disappointed by the disharmony. The public is soon quieted. Today in real-world Manhattan the streets of midtown are filled with the sickly-sweet skunk-imitator scent of cannabis leaves burning quietly, and undoubtedly to some of us it brings a welcome oblivion.

Orwell was another one. He had it right too, the Big Brothers who presently rule territories East and West are watching you, and some are more equal than others, while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all (when a society seeks the Good above the True – it’s over) and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.

By the way, George Orwell wrote an at-close-quarters account of a hanging that happened in Burma (Myanmar) when he was a civil servant there. He was struck by how the condemned man side-stepped a puddle on the way to the gallows.

Along the side streets of midtown there are theatres. They cling to Broadway like barnacles on a submarine cable and claim its name. From them you may purchase entertainment.

Is there a difference between entertainment and art?

“Our job,” says a senior advertising executive to a colleague in the 1980s TV dramady Thirtysomething, “is to give people faith in their leaders, comfort in the purchase of consumer durables and security in the belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong.”

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Last week I joined the company of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. I stand by for Mark Addy, an actor of extraordinary calibre and absolutely outstanding in the role of Harry. The show previews Feb 28th, opens March 19th.

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And if you do see it, will it give you any somatic relief from the chafing-on-the-nerves challenge of being alive in these “interesting times”?

I doubt it.

The author, Martin McDonagh, is on record as saying he had no intention for a play-of-message as he wrote it. Even so, the show is confronting. It’s very funny. State-sanctioned murderous use of hempen weave – what could be funnier? But if you laugh, soon after you are likely to think “What kind of person laughs at this?!?

I’ll call that art.

Stop Press – London Assurance Extension

A short sweet note to say that after the aforementioned ‘money review’ in the Wall Street Journal by Terry Teachout, our initial run of London Assurance has sold out.

We’ve extended for two weeks. Performances from 01/29 thru 02/09. Tickets are going fast…

 

The Power of the Press

I’ve been posting too frequently lately. After this update. I shall resume a sedate once-a-month-if-that routine. It’s the bushfires in Australia that have me so riled. A national emergency and an international crisis – anyway enough of that and plenty of my opinion in previous posts.

Meanwhile…

The astonishing power of a good review in a major newspaper…!

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From left to right: Those splendid actors Elliot Joseph, Evan Zes, Ian Holcomb, Brian Keane, Caroline Strang, and some portly bloke down right in the frame… photo by Carol Rosegg. 

We opened on the 15th December to some frankly glowing feedback from (in my opinion) a group of enlightened, perceptive, life-affirming critics in several publications and blogs of the greater NYC area. Except the mighty New York Times, where the opinion was at best mildly positive, but not enough to make you want to mash your smartphone and get on to the box office at the Irish Rep 212 727 2737

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The wonderful Rachel Pickup and, quoting from the New York Theatre Guide: “Colin McPhillamy … He plays it all for fun even launching his considerable girth in surprising leaps that recall a vaudevillian’s trick.”

Consequently our business was a very respectable 80% to 90%, nice, but with comedy it’s even nicer when you can’t get a seat.

Then…

Almost two weeks later Terry Teachout published his review in the Wall Street Journal. A rave. Sidebar: the WSJ may require you to subscribe to access the full review, my recommendation is just to come and see the show instead!

The phones began to ring off the hook. We are now almost sold out for the rest of the run. We’re due to close 01/26 and if you did plan to see the show, please organize a ticket before they put up the HOUSE FULL signs!

Happy New Year!

 

 

A Monologue You Will Never Hear

Happy New Year!

Among the many monologues you will never hear, we include this from the (Australian/American/British) – fill in the gap – (Prime Minister/President/Almost all senior officials) in public address.

“My fellow (Australians/Americans/Britons ) the time has come to admit that we have completely fucked it up. Our politics are uselessly toxic, and we are destroying the Earth.

Devastating and deadly floods and fires are on the increase the world over. We are now forced to confront what environmentalists have been attempting to bring to notice for more than fifty years. We of the ruling classes have hitherto chosen to distort, deny, delay, obfuscate, ridicule and in every way ignore the responsible warnings of scientists, conservationists and concerned citizens.

Beyond this, we have filled the airwaves with unending speeches of self-congratulatory lies and international xenophobic aggression while we knowingly continued to allow massive pollution and environmental degradation on all fronts, to the extent that the seas are dying and our food is toxic. We did this even when, especially when, feasible solutions were offered to us.

We in government have all had a complete change of heart. This is due to an outbreak of Common Sense, and we are now taking immediate action. Our measures will include:

Creation and distribution of 100% clean energy from wind, wave, solar, geo-thermal.

We realize this initiative will be met with resistance, in the aforementioned form of; distortion, denial, delay, obfuscation, and ignorance.

And lots of anger.

Why?

Because:

“Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.”

Middle-aged white men in positions of power who find themselves so enraged are referred to:

It merely remains for me to thank you for listening, I acknowledge that we never did that, and my resignation takes place with immediate effect.

Happy New Year.”

Australia is on Fire

Australia is on fire.

It probably is a good idea to know about it. Why so? Because if nothing is done, the equivalent will happen here, wherever that happens to be…

In the absence of any detailed reporting apart from the usual sound bite/video clip sensational pictures of walls of flame, social media is the best source of information.

#AustraliaFires

This astonishing kid is motivating millions of people.

@GretaThunberg

Which is a good thing because there’s plenty of this…

#climatechangedenial

There was a time when doctors would advise people to smoke cigarettes. They don’t do that any more do they?

The world needs to give up smoking.

 

 

London Assurance at The Irish Rep

From a theatre history point of view London Assurance is unique. Dion Boucicault wrote it in three weeks in 1841. He was twenty. Some sources give his age as eighteen at the time.

That’s me sliding into character in the dressing room

The human Dionysus Boucicault captured some of the Dionysian spirit and poured it in this soufflé of a play. A piece which might also be called a keggeree, or a bubble-and-squeek. There are multiple overt and inferred Shakespearean references and themes, not to mention the derivation from Restoration and Carolinian drama generally. But then, if you were twenty (or eighteen) and had three weeks to write a play what would you do?

With the incomparably fabulous Rachel Pickup in rehearsal

Such derivative literary technique is time-honored of course. Shakespeare never bothered with an original plot as is well known, and looking forward through the 1800s, Oscar Wilde and Brandon Thomas evince traces of Boucicault – certainly Noel Coward in the 20th century took a minor character from London Assurance and made him famous as “Sollox” in Private Lives.

And the same moment, or just before, in performance

It’s always a vexed question for an actor as to whether to read reviews when the play opens. On this occasion I did. The press… well you can see for yourself at http://www.irishrep.org

Kudos to my fellow cast members, to numerous to list here but again, details at http://www.irishrep.org. Each of the actors I’m privileged to work with on this one, brings a lively inventiveness and vivid reality, helmed by the ever-creative Charlotte Moore, founder member of the Irish Rep, which translates to a sublime couple of hours in the theatre – Geez, I’m writing my own review here – reminds me of the famous dialogue between Anthony Sher when he played Richard III and Michael Caine who saw a performance.

Caine: And what about those reviews?!

Sher: Oh, I don’t read reviews.

Caine: Read ’em! You fuckin’ wrote ’em, didn’t you?

I am delighted to report that the show is selling well, we play thru January 26th 2020. The play among other things is an entertainment-antidote to the current state of world affairs, and I am able to write the time-honored marketing phrase, “Book now to avoid disappointment.” And just in case you missed it: London Assurance, directed by Charlotte Moore, tickets at http://www.irishrep.org