13 August 2010, Comedy Theatre, London
This play has been getting mixed reviews and I can see why. To give you a bit of context, it’s set in 1654 France and revolves around an upheaval of a famous acting troupe. The patron of the troupe Princess something (Joanna Lumley) wants the head of the troupe Elomoire (David Hyde Pierce from Frasier) to bring on board a flamboyant, self-centred street artist Valere (Mark Rylance), who spits while he talks, gives dumb intellectual insights but somehow has charmed the Princess.
This play had really funny moments. And Mark Rylance was absolutely brilliant. In fact, I believe he was the reason why people came out thinking that this was a good show. He played la bête (the beast/the fool) and my, he really played the part well. He began with a 25 minute monologue where he completely held everyone’s attention (sometimes it’s because we’re horrified at his spitting, burping, farting and his “using” of the bathroom while in sight). His delivery was spot on – could not be better.
The set was also really beautiful. Three walls of shelves lined full of old books. A few doors were hidden within the bookshelves. The floor was so shiny that it acted as a mirror, so it seemed like there were endless books. However, I’m afraid that’s where my positive comments end!
The story itself and what you take away at the end of the night lacks substance. The writer’s main message was so simple that I found myself slightly frustrated in wanting to analyze it deeper and so overanalyzed in the end. Let’s see if I got this right – the play was comparing popular and high culture and ultimately pop culture will prevail. It’s better to have fun and appease the audience. High culture will always only speak to a small audience. It should be appreciated but if it’s too elite, it will get abandoned. High culture snubs pop culture. But pop culture also snubs high culture, but is hypocritical because it in fact thinks itself as high culture. Erm, yeah, nothing new. The ending is very anti-climatic. Also, another problem was that I couldn’t empathize with any of the characters.
I wonder if it gets frustrating for comedy writers. Maybe sometimes it being funny on the surface is enough. Though I do like witty funny. Hm, this play wasn’t witty funy though, it was funny because of the extreme characters, the context and the situation some of the characters were finding themselves in. Also, because they spoke in iambic pentameter (hurrah!), so some of the 2nd lines were unexpected and so funny.
All in all, I did enjoy it, though I think theatre should give you more than just a good night out. It should at least make you feel something or think something at the end of the night.