All New People, Kings Theatre, Glasgow, 17 February 2012

As you know, we only do the odd theatre review here – essentially when it features someone we like at unpopcult. We like Zach Braff.  But then, who doesn’t?

He’s always interesting and engaging on screen, and his writing and directing on Garden State was impressive, so I couldn’t miss his debut as a playwright, All New People.

The clever mix of honesty and off-beat humour in the portrayal of young adult angst has been a running theme in Braff’s past work, and is also the key ingredient in this new piece, even though it’s darker and more grown-up.  Going in, I knew it was about a man who tries to kill himself on his 35th birthday only to be interrupted by various misfits coming to the door, but the opening scene was still a little bit of a shock in its bleakness.  A shock but not a problem, though: it was also blackly funny, and set the tone for the rest of what proved to be a hilarious, sad, thoughtful and ultimately hopeful piece of theatre.  I don’t want to spoil any of the major scenes and the best lines, so I won’t go into details but suffice to say, I laughed loudly and regularly right the way through, and I wasn’t the only one.

The writing is whip-smart, with uncompromisingly strong language and the gags coming thick and fast, and if there were one or two things I didn’t quite buy (Emma’s backstory was too much of a leap for me, for example, and I don’t think the use of pre-recorded videos added much – although my friend thought they were a great idea), it didn’t really matter in the scheme of things.  All the performances were great as well; Braff is generous with the limelight on stage, allowing the rest of the cast to shine too, and they all gelled beautifully, making the 100 minute running time (without an interval) fly by.  The show moves on to London later this week and I hope it smashes records there too.

In a Forest Dark and Deep – 28 March 2011, Vaudeville Theatre, London

I know we don’t normally “do” theatre reviews on unpopcult but I couldn’t resist writing about this any more than I could resist going to see it when on a brief trip to London this week.  Unpopcult icons Matthew “Lost” Fox and Olivia “Dollhouse” Williams treading the boards together in a new play written by Neil LaBute; it would have been remiss of me not to go investigate, surely?

So investigate I did.  The story’s about Bobby and Betty, estranged siblings, who come together to clear out a cabin way out in a forest, er, dark and deep.  Bobby’s twice-divorced and all unreconstructed sexist, racist, any-other-ist you can think of, while Betty’s a married college dean teaching literature.  Their world views are miles apart, and they have huge issues with each other, their childhoods and generally everything you can think of.

It’s a two-hander so it’s about 100 minutes of Fox and Williams arguing, bonding and arguing some more; and given the static set and repetitive format, they hold the attention brilliantly.  The running time zooms by because of them; Fox is great (and often surprisingly funny) as the disquietingly brutish but secretly loving Bobby, and Williams does well with the oddly contradictory mass of flaws that is Betty.

The play’s not quite as profound as it thinks it is, but it deftly balances the uncomfortable – and there’s a heck of a lot of uncomfortable – and the humorous, and I enjoyed it a lot.  But the underlying message left me troubled at the end; as Bobby forcibly unravels Betty’s secret and the real reason why she needs him to clear out the cabin, the roles are reversed so that he becomes her hero, she becomes the selfish, vulnerable and needy damsel in distress, and we’re left wondering what the moral is here.

If you wanted to look on the positive side of things, it’d be about truth and family; the truth may hurt, but as long as she tells him the truth, Bobby will come to Betty’s aid, no matter how much they fight.  My initial reaction was that it was a lot less palatable than that, though; Bobby will come to Betty’s aid because he’s the “real” macho man, he tells it like it is, no matter who it offends and she’ll need him to because she’s the “skank”, liberal, uppity woman he tells her she is right from the start.  Hm.

But what do I know?  If you fancy deciding for yourself (and don’t mind a lot of strong language), it’s on at the Vaudeville till 4th June.

Not Waiting for Godot

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are examples of an increasingly rare breed of actors.  Incredibly gifted, classically-trained and radiating gravitas and credibility, their work in both theatre and film is rightly lauded.  The news that they are starring together in a play widely regarded as a classic and taking it on tour across the country should be welcomed.  I say “should” however, because I really cannot bear “Waiting for Godot.”

I’m no genius.  I’m sure I don’t understand everything in the play.  But, before anyone tries to tell me, yes I do understand some of the symbolism.  I understand that futility and boredom and despair are amongst the key themes.  The problem for me though is that these key themes are portrayed far too well.  Nothing happens.  AT ALL.  For around two hours.  Apart from two thoroughly unpleasant exchanges with a man who bullies his unfortunate servant, the play revolves around two tramps, waiting for the mystery Godot, considering killing themselves if he doesn’t show up and talking endless nonsense in between.

I saw a production of it some months ago at a well-regarded local theatre.  I was almost weeping with boredom by the end.  The actors were fine, but, I say again, NOTHING HAPPENS.  If I want futility and boredom and despair, I’ll stay in my house and stare at a wall for two hours.  So I’ll be giving Waiting for Godot a miss this time around.  I know I’m a theatrical lightweight.  I know I should give this type of “brain-food” a chance.  But I like what I like.  If McKellen and Stewart ever take a stage version of “X-Men” on tour, I’m in.