Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Kingdom of Hell

After last night, I've had to resign myself to the fact that theatre audiences will never cease to amaze me. The behaviour of audiences has been in the news lately and I find it incredible that people seem completely unaware how to behave when they enter a room with a stage.

I went to see Three Kingdoms  at the Lyric Hammersmith last night. It was a play where I really didn't know what to expect but I certainly didn't think the first surprises would occur before the lights had even gone down. Just as my friend and I sat in our seats, we saw a small discussion taking place down by the stage. A confused looking man was having something explained to him by an annoyed looking usher and, as he stepped aside, it was revealed to the rest of the audience that he had used the stage as his own personal coat rack. I realise cloakroom prices can be eyewatering at times but the stage?! Really? He reluctantly bundled them under his seat and we all waited for the drama to unfold on the stage.

The play began and we were hooked almost immediately. However, it's hard to be completely hooked when you have a panel of whisperers sat directly behind you. A few scowls from me did nothing and a very loud shush from the gentleman in front of me was also ignored. Finally my friend turned around to shush them again and they finally listened. However, they didn't just immediately shut up. Oh no. Instead one of the ladies whispered 'But I'm translating it for them.' Oh. That's ok then. Carry on. Because we all came to the theatre to listen to you translating a play into another language. I honestly can't imagine why she thought that this was acceptable behaviour. However much I wanted to see a play, if it involved everyone else's experience being involved by a theatre whisperer then I'd most definitely stay away.

But anyway, on with the show. Three Kingdoms is quite a show. It somehow manages to be both beautiful and utterly disgusting at the same time. It's absurd and real and magical and horrific. The first half of the play had me thoroughly hooked. Be warned, it's a long play but not for one second during the first half did I wonder what the time was or if anything exciting was happening on Twitter. When the lights did finally come down, we filed into the foyer, chattering excitedly about what we'd just seen. Despite my dislike of just how many songs one character sings, we were both in agreement that we were watching something pretty special. We just about managed to get our drinks in the shortest interval known to man and we hurried back in, excited about what was going to happen next.

And then it all happened. My friend and I had already discussed that we thought the second half would go more absurd first before it came to conclusion but neither of us could've predicted just how absurd. I was all ready to reattach myself to the hook that had caught me in the first half but instead I was just left floating around wondering what was going on. One of the lead characters appears to disappear completely and there's a party scene that very much makes you feel like the only sober guest at a drunkenly debauched gathering. Then, just as I thought we were going to get a suitable conclusion to the story, you're left with a baffling ending that doesn't end things at all. Although still excited at having seen something completley new and beautiful. I have to admit that I did come away feeling a little disappointed.

However, I do have to give credit to the 13 actors involved in the show. The play is performed in English, German and Estonian and it's down to the actors that I spent more time watching them than keeping an eye on the surtitles. There wasn't one weak link in the play and their performances and physicality were utterly breathtaking. Steven Scharf who plays the mysterious Dresner was particularly astounding and reminded me just what a joy acting is.

And, given my recent blogging subjects, I do have to briefly mention the fact that out of a cast of 13, only 2 were female. I realise the subject of sex trafficking means that the majority of strong characters will be male but it's very upsetting to see scenes where four actors get to play the most incredibly complex characters while there is a pretty girl slinking around in the background cleaning the floor and handing out slices of cucumber. The two actresses get their moments but they are extremely brief and are very much overshadowed by the strength of the male characters which is a shame.

If you're in doubt over whether to go, my advice would be to go. It's a wonderful lesson in just what theatre can do and it's a play that is definitely still on your mind the day after. It'll make you think, it'll make you gag and it'll make you laugh. Just make sure you go on a day when the socially inept are choosing to stay indoors.

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