Theatre obsessive though I am, it’s not often that I find myself booked in for four theatrical performances over one weekend. In my defence, they were all completely different. They were also completely fantastic, every one of them, albeit for completely different reasons.
First up was Platero: Travels With a Donkey. This intrigued me as it was performed at a puppet theatre (the Little Angel in Islington). I hadn’t realised that there was such a thing as a puppet show for adults. The production appealed because it was based on a series of short stories by Spanish author Juan Ramón Jiménez, about a man and his donkey Platero.
The production was narrated by Mike Maran, a Scottish storyteller who held the audience in raptures with his gentle tales of life in a small Spanish town. Platero the little donkey was a marionette beautifully handled by Nino Namitcheishvili; adorable with a distinct personality, he appeared wonderfully lifelike. I fell in love with the production, and could almost imagine that I was in Spain myself.
The ending, though, was very sad. I won’t give it away, but it reduced me to tears. Impressive stuff for a puppet show!
Next I headed all the way up to Watford to visit the Palace Theatre, which was hosting a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. This play is my absolute favourite and I try to see as many different productions as I can. This version by Headlong Theatre was challenging and fresh. It used an adaptation of the text rather than a strict translation, but I felt that the new script still kept the spirit of the original. The cast were brilliant and the whole thing was up-to-date without being gimmicky.
I did overhear a disturbing exchange during the interval:
First woman: “I don’t like it”
Second woman: “I know, there’s no plot is there?”
First woman: “It’s just about how great it is to be an actress”
Aargh! Clearly these people completely missed the point of Chekhov’s masterpiece. Doh.
Anyway, I digress. My Sunday began with a trip to the Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge. Now I know that this theatre is aimed at children, but I really wanted to see Mister Holgado, having read several glowing reviews of it. I was not disappointed. The play is about a young boy, Conrad, who tells his parents that there is a tiger living on top of his wardrobe (as if this is not strange enough, the tiger is named Sigmund and eats nothing but champagne truffles). His father – a child psychologist – invents a creepy man named Mister Holgado who, so he tells Conrad one morning, stole the tiger away in the night; in this way he hopes to get rid of the ‘tiger’ once and for all. However, things don’t quite go according to plan, and in the end Conrad’s father has to become Mister Holgado – a mustachioed man in a top hat with an evil grin, a mysterious box of glass eyes and a tendency to eat children – himself. What results is a macabre, unsettling tale with a great deal of dark humour: at one point Conrad’s father/Mister Holgado is chasing Conrad around the apartment in a bloodstained apron, wielding his knife and fork. The children in the audience loved it. I loved it.
Finally, I ventured north to the Rosemary Branch Theatre, which was showing a production of Jane Eyre. This is my all-time favourite book and I was hoping that the adaptation would be good. I was not disappointed. Performed by just six actors – two playing Jane and Rochester, the other four portraying every other character between them – the play was simply designed but beautifully executed. Jane and Rochester had fantastic chemistry and the whole thing was very moving.
I didn’t just go to the theatre this weekend. I also managed to tick off several tube stations, mostly at the north east end of the city. In Walthamstow, I also found the time to pop into the local museum, the Vestry House, for a look around. Interesting stuff!