Sunday, 30 September 2007

Kings in theatre

Two kings. Xi You Ji on, the Monkey King on Friday and King Lear just this afternoon. Two legendary figures I encountered this week end.
The long saga of Xi You Ji was squeezed into a two-hour musical called Monkey – Journey to the West and set to music by Damon Albarn, while the second was a four-hour long, heavy-handed staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy in French language.

I didn’t really feel like going seeing King Lear. It was to be played by French actors. Why do French stage actors have this annoying habit to shout and yell each time they open their mouth? Two minutes into the play, I was already tense by the coarseness of their voices. I never felt this way when I would go to the theatre be it in London, New York, Vienna or Tokyo. It seems to be a French thing. I had seen another staging by this director, Jean-François Sivadier, and I had to endure much shouting and broken vocal chords even if the play was The Marriage of Figaro. A comedy!  Yet I knew he had a good sense of scenography. At least if the acting wasn’t to my taste, it would be interesting to watch.
Then on stage Nora Krief appeared the ray of light. Yes, she was playing Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter. She was to be the light of hope and love of the play. When she was done with Cordelia first scene, she reappeared as the Fool and she just outshone all the others. She was the Fool when the others struggled to give meaning and life to their characters. She made the whole audience laugh when the others pained to get even one sigh from us. She was the heart of the show. I’m glad I could have witnessed that. The four hours went by. I must say that Jean-François Sivadier managed some moments of greatness, for instance, when King Lear is facing the storm and his inner storm of madness, they cleverly used a microphone that completely distorted his voices and made it sound like a monster howling as the stage floor was dividing and moved apart. I was chilled and thrilled. A scene to remember.

Monkey was another affair. As a show it was highly entertaining. But one digs a little deeper, there’s only void, system and mechanism. The performers, acrobats, singers and musicians were really breath-taking. I’m always in awe of performers who can use their body, jump and fly and flip in the air. Kristina was with me and we shared the same mixed feeling about Monkey. The music was annoying. Damon Albarn is great when it comes to writing pop songs, or when he delves in his musical experimentations with Michael Nyman, Terry Hall or as a member of Gorillaz, but he doesn’t have the skill and the mastery to pen a full scale ‘opera’. There were some ideas, but he mainly kept the tone light and humorous – as in Blur and Gorillaz. The fighting scenes which would have required a stronger use of drums was here only the same musical loop played louder and louder. Had he worked with a classically trained composer, the result would have been richer and more layered.
The audience loved it anyway and that’s what the new director of the Théâtre du Châtelet is aiming at: entertaining people. 
Kristina and I left the theatre slightly frustrated. One question: is it possible (wise?) to be demanding all the time?

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