NT Live Presents a Harrowing and Modern ‘Medea’

We first fell in love with the Royal National Theatre about five years ago, when we participated in a month-long study abroad focusing on London theater. The National is such an energetic and progressive space for theater. It present fantastic, on-point productions in a diverse, democratic space, and, since it receives public funds, tickets can be bought for half the price of a regular theater ticket, if not less.

And now, starting in 2009, the National launched NT Live, a program that films some of the National’s most in-demand stage productions and broadcasts them live to cinemas around the world. It’s an innovative program that hopefully will be adopted by other prominent theater companies, not only to further promote and spread excellent theater, but also to preserve it. Theater is a far less accessible medium than film, for reasons of cost, specific location, and specific duration, and any opportunity to enhance the theater’s audience and ensure a production’s longevity should be taken. Since it start, NT Live has increased its accessibility among international audiences, with screenings of noteworthy productions like Frankenstein (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller), Coriolanus (a Donmar production starring Tom Hiddleston), and soon-to-be Broadway productions like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Audience, and Skylight.

Helen McCrory and Danny Sapani in Medea

You’d expect no less from a forward-looking company than this powerful production of Euripedes’ Medea. Using a new translation by Ben Powers, Carrie Cracknell directs Helen McCrory in the title role. McCrory is a powerhouse actress with a knack for playing turbulent and/or conflicted women. She adds a quiet and authentic severity to Medea, and is more than capable of tacking the physical and emotional demands of the role. Unlike most tragic heroes, Medea begins already grief-stricken, with a history of conflict and violence long enough to fill its own Greek tragedy. Out of love for Jason, the Greek adventurer and leader of the Argonauts, Medea again and again saved his life using ancient magic and strategy throughout his quest for the Golden Fleece. She killed and dismembered her own brother in order to provide a distraction for Jason’s escape.

Jason (Danny Sapani) is now Medea’s husband and father to her two children. Her new grief is due to the newly announced marriage of Jason and Glauce, King Kreon’s daughter. Jason rationally argues that this new marriage is a political and economic ploy to ensure the the protection of Medea and his sons. But Medea refuses to see the marriage as anything but betrayal. Historically, rationality has been seen as a male trait and superior to female emotion. Here,  Jason’s emotionally distant logic counteracts Medea’s deeply rooted, instinctual fervor.  She envelopes herself in grief and plans her revenge. To make matters worse, Kreon (Martin Turner) banishes Medea, a threat to the happiness of the kingdom. What struck me about Medea’s eventual decision to murder her children is how she must adopt the same oppressive patriarchal logic in order to execute the plan, abandoning her instincts and alienating her actions from her feelings. It is her mind, not her emotions, that brings about this atrocity. This is clear in Helen McCrory’s beautifully executed soliloquies debating the act, revealing the psychological twists and turns of her motives. For me, this is the triumph of the play, this rationalization of the murders that mirrors the rationalization of the male authority figures. This adoption of male logic, as opposed to her abundance of emotion, is the perpetrator of her actions.

This production is set in a modern home, albeit a crumbling one. The dirty, peeling patterned wallpaper and 70s-style tiled floors give the house a look as if it hadn’t been cared for in years, the result of years of neglect, even though Jason’s marriage to Glauce has only been just announced. It gives one the feeling that this oppressive grief, this anger, is a deep-seated one that has always been latently present, but only recently surfaced. Knowing what we do about Medea’s history with Jason and ancient Greek patriarchy, it is clear that Medea’s betrayal is only one face of female sacrifice, of the abuse of male power, and of a (perhaps unconscious) long-lasting resentment between the sexes and neglect of feminine humanity. This latent anger is further emphasized by the way that the set gives way to a lurking forest in the background. Atop the house is a hall walled with glass, the scene of Glauce and Jason’s wedding party. Structurally, the forest may be like the lurking subconscious, the otherworldliness of Medea’s mysticism and powerful emotions (She is traditionally seen as a representative of the old mystic, uncivilized world of witchery and magic, while Jason ushers in a new structured civilized age). It is the unbridled rawness of human nature, the id, if you will. If Medea’s home is the ego, struggling to balance her emotions with her thoughts, then the glass hall above is the superego, the civilized, the home of rationalism, logic, and ideology. It is the realm of the accepted status quo, that which has been deemed correct by the patriarchal hierarchy of Greece.

The chorus of this production is comprised of the women of Corinth, the bridesmaids at Glauce’s wedding. They comment on Medea’s actions, but they too struggle with the emotional and psychological contradictions of patriarchy. Accompanied by a chilling score written by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, the chorus convulsively dances at pivotal points in Medea’s plan, their bodies becoming symbolic incarnations of Medea’s mental state and of the psychological distress that exists in the psyches of oppressed peoples. Sometimes the choreography seemed too much like break-dancing (there were a few giggles in the audience in one scene) but its purpose was clear.

To find local screenings of NT Live’s Medea, as well as upcoming NT Live productions, visit their website here.

London Part 3: American Psycho the Musical wuttttt

Rounding up my London theater viewing party is American Psycho, starring The Doctor Matt Smith. It’s also the latest from Duncan Sheik, composer of that-show-that-no-one-really-cared-about-and-it-was-totally-the-traditional-little-musical-that-didn’t-break-any-musical-theater-boundaries-called Spring Awakening.* When it was announced that Duncan Sheik was penning a new American Psycho musical, I put it on the lists of shows I must see in London. Then I saved that list into the netherworld of all things that I e-mail to myself and I slacked on my intent to buy. Then Matt Smith broke the internet by announcing that he and his short hair would be playing Patrick Bateman. Let me tell you, the time I spent kicking myself over this was approximately the same amount of time I spent refreshing that godforsaken tickets page.

*My skills in sarcasm are unprecedented

Another interesting thing about London theater is that there really isn’t one central location for theaters. There are a bunch of them that are centrally located in Soho and whatnot, sure. But they’re definitely not as clustered together along an 8-block strip the way Broadway theaters are. In order to get to the Barbican, for example, you’ve got to head just north of the Financial District, under this shady-looking overpass. American Psycho played at the Almeida Theater, which took me to the Angel/Islington neighborhood. The Almeida is a small theater, and the seats are couch benches instead of regular seating, which was pretty awesome. I was sort of surprised that the Almeida was able to pull a huge-attraction musical like American Psycho. On the other hand, the smaller, out-of-the-way space gave the show a more subversive, avant-garde atmosphere. Well, at least I felt like a badass for actually getting tickets to this thing AND finding my way there by bus.

American Psycho was all I hoped it would be, and then sometimes it wasn’t. Duncan Sheik’s music utilized plenty of 80’s pop and synthesizers (there’s a whole dance number to ‘Don’t You Want Me, Baby’) in keeping with the play’s flashy club scenes and end-of-the-century American decadence. The melodies were definitely catchy, but I felt continuously disappointed by the predictable sub-par lyrics. They felt pretty basic, reiterating what is already going on in the scenes instead of lending the scenes any depth or nuance. Whenever a lyric was sung that actually revealed something new about Patrick Bateman’s nature or lifestyle, it really clung to me, but I could probably count them on one hand. The sets and costumes, on the other hand,w ere much more precise. They managed to be both flashy and austere, which reflects our favorite investment banker’s interior life much better than some of the songs did.

Das cast and das set

The musical doesn’t stray too far from the film adaptation. Reservations at Dorsia are still of vital importance, as are daily skin routines and VHS rentals. I kept waiting for the Phil Collin’s monologue, but it never happened. Bateman’s secretary Jean is given a much larger role in the musical, as well as a god-awful solo number. Let’s just say she joins the ranks of women like Oliver!‘s Nancy and Carousel‘s Julie who stick with men who abuse them, except her song of loyalty and steadfastness falls as fast and dead as Patrick’s victims.

Matt Smith makes his grand entrance rising up in the middle of the stage in a tanning bed. It’s pretty epic. I’ve seen most reviewers praise his performance by saying that his icy, one-note performance is a clever portrayal of Bateman’s yuppie boredom and detachment. For the most part, it worked for me, but I would have loved to see him get actually really flipping angry or really flipping psycho in a scene or two. Smith’s singing usually started out rocky– for the first verse or two, it sounded like he was trying to croon his way in. But once in, Matt carried the song through quite well.

Damn, Matty got some muscles.

Well, that completes my London fun. Can’t wait for the next time I visit!


London Part II: Mojo and the Pillar that Joined an All-Star Cast

A few days ago, I gushed over London’s more modern theaters and how comfortable, democratic, and eclectic spaces are essential in creating a vibrant theater community. Creativity, comfort, and accessibility are all things we look for in a modern theater, both in its physical structure and in the works it produces.

Well, London also has some theaters that are older than dirt. I mean, older than the queen herself. I mean, older than she’s ever going to get (bless Prince Charles). I mean, older than the way I feel around Vampire Diaries fans.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the oldest and most famous theater in London, and when you climb up those stairs to the balcony, you might understand what it feels like to be 400 years old. In these old theaters, the views from the cheap seats make it seem like you’re watching a play from the seat of an airplane that already took off. And there’s about as much space for your legs as in an airplane too.

The revival of Mojo, an early play by Jez Butterworth who has since found success with Jerusalem, is being performed at the Harold Pinter Theater, before known as The Comedy Theater, which is one of those old theaters that make you really focus on the play so that you don’t focus on the fact that you might very well slam your elbow into your neighbor’s shoulder  by accident throughout the evening. My seat was in the late-mid alphabet section of the stalls (orchestra for Brits), which in New York, would likely mean a clear enough view of the stage, maybe a bit cut off from the overhanging balcony. These Mojo seats were not only under a hanging balcony that cut off part of the above action, there was a pillar right in our views.

See them pillars?

And as if all this wasn’t alienating enough, the play used so much British slang and heavy accents that I needed to buy a playbill in the intermission with the hopes of finding a summary of what I just saw. Yup, you have to buy playbills. They’re called programmes and they’re usually about three pounds a pop. They come with lots more behind-the-scenes info than Boroadway playbills though, and relevant articles. My Mojo programme didn’t have a summary so I was stuck with only my experience piecing together Kelly’s heavy Derby accent from Misfits. Also, you can buy ice cream during intermission, which arouses all the  infantile excitement I’ve repressed since elementary school.


When a local pop star goes missing at the hands of a gangster in the 1950’s London music scene, a club owner and his terrified crew prepare themselves for confrontation… That’s about as much as I can say about the plot. Everything else that I actually understood would be spoilerific. The rest was in this weird other English language that no one on BBC America actually speaks, so I’m screwed.

The play assembles an all-star cast to play the bumbling, unfortunate gang. Harry Potter‘s Rupert Grint plays nice-guy Sweets and provide a funny heart for the play. Merlin‘s Colin Morgan and Downton Abbey‘s Brenday Coyle also lend some star power in their roles. The cast works together extraordinarily well and keep a constant, darkly comedic momentum going. I was most excited to see Ben Whishaw play Baby. He’s definitely one of the most versatile and captivating actors around, and has the ability to pack his graceful and vulnerable exterior with an emotional punch. Plus, I wrote my first published review (*cough* in the school newspaper *cough*) about The Pride at the Manhattan Theater Club, which starred Whishaw and Hugh Dancy. Good times.

Ben Whishaw thanks you for your time

That pillar though.

London Part I: Richard II and Basking in David Tennant’s Glory

Happy New Year! Y’all are probably sick and tired of hearing it by now, but LMezz wishes you an awesome 2014!  I spent my New Year’s midnight 5 hours earlier than usual because I was in *say it with me now* Greenwich Mean Time Zone!

An accurate depiction of the jetlag I experienced

More specifically, I rang in the New Year at a Tex-Mex restaurant called Chiquito’s in Leicester Square in London because a) parties intimidate me and b) strawberry margaritas needed to happen.

London’s theatre scene is very similar to New York’s, but also rather different in some key ways. The West End and Broadway frequently trade-off musicals. Matilda and Twelfth Night/Richard III In Rep series are the latest British shipments to arrive on Broadway, while Book of Mormon and Once have gotten the overseas treatment.

Soooo ummmm I can haz Richard II on Broadway? Probably not. But crazier things have happened.

Lately, I’ve been scouring the internet for the best Richard II gif I can find. My ideal gif is one of David Tennant putting on his crown, which he does with a little hair flip. It’s possibly one of the most gorgeous things I’ve seen ever. I will find a clip of this. And I will learn to make gifs. And I will notify you when I provide this very important gift to mankind.


Now, before I begin the review portion of my post, let me state that Richard II is actually NOT Richard III. You know that crooked old evil king whose remains were found in a parking lot? This isn’t that guy.

Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s earlier and lesser-performed plays. It doesn’t quite have the same dramatic legacy as your Hamlets or Julius Caesars, but it is very much a precursor to these later royal masterpieces about what happens when lines of succession are disrupted.  Richard II became king at ten years old. He has been historically characterized as narcissistic, beautiful, and possibly mentally ill in his later life. Shakespeare’s portrayal follows these characterizations pretty closely. Richard II is a king who seems disconnected from his people, yet his regality, confidence, and majesty inspire admiration. He is firm in his belief that he is God’s agent and chosen king. And in spite of his moral failings, he is incredibly introspective and sharp.

Because David Tennant is a heavenly creature, he is a perfect fit for Richard II. Sitting on his throne to solve the play’s opening quarrel, he looks firmly yet gracefully up towards heaven, as if symbolically seeking his divine inspiration from above, not from his own people. His walk is quick and effortless. We can certainly argue that Richard’s behavior is a performance. He knows how to gain the respect of his court, and his detached holier-than-thou act is just a power play. Yet, it is fascinating how easily Richard switches between very human traits like vulnerability and treachery, and his detached kingly persona. There’s an imposing aura of sanctity about it all– how one man can be so assured about his place in the world– and Tennant captures it perfectly.

This is probably where the hair comes in. David Tennant’s hair extensions (which he has kept in throughout the play’s run) made the internet rounds when the first official photos were released, and the general consensus was that they are horrifying to look at. As a longtime admirer of Tennant’s hair, I was heartbroken to see those long mousy locks and shaped eyebrows. Why would anybody do that to such perfect hair!

I would have given ANYTHING to be this girl

But having seen the play, I love the locks. The eyebrows can please get the ef out, but I love the locks. It is such an essential part of Richard’s character and it encompasses everything there is to know about him: his confidence, his privileging of the aesthetic over the practical, his femininity, his passivity. It’s just amazing. And I can see why Tennant keeps them in even in his off-time, but he has certainly learned how to own the hair oh-so-naturally.

And while we’re on the never-ending subject of how perfect David Tennant is, can I just say how perfect David Tennant is? His acting choices always surprise me, and yet they feel so natural and essential. Every word and gesture is deliberate and important, and yet it never seems like his performance is overly calculated or over-the-top. He has an obvious passion and intellect for the text, and seems like the perfect person to pore over a book with.  David, please join my book club.

This king takes his throne, y'all.
This king takes his throne, y’all.

Of course, the play is about more than just Richard II’s reign; it’s also about the guy who kills him. Richard is deposed via methods that are just as deceitful as his reign. There’s tons of ambiguity in this play– who killed who? did he really order that guy killed? did that kiss actually really just happen?– and Richard’s successor Henry Bollingbroke, while different in personality, turns out to be just as crafty.

But you know. Without the hair.

Richard II was performed at an incredibly unique space in London called The Barbican. I’ve visited this space once before and it really feels like the future of theatrical spaces. First of all, this space doesn’t just house a theater. It is also home to a school, a night club, a restaurant, a gallery, and several other venues. It’s kind of an all-for-one go-to stop for culture. The closest thing in New York might be The Public Theater in the East Village, or possibly Lincoln Center without the schmaltz. Secondly, the Barbican theater space is super comfortable. There’s plenty of legroom, and no seat is a bad seat. The only theater I’ve been in that has felt better than this is the Olivier Theater at the National Theater in London. Spaces like this make theater feel more accessible, and attract a wider audience than those that might typically see a Shakespeare play, or really any play for that matter.

Okay, this concludes Part I of my London Theater Reflections/Fangirling. Next up I’ll talk about a VERY different play that has been earning rave reviews called Mojo and some not so fun theatrical spaces.

Announcement Fun Time!


I’m going to London Y’ALL. From December 26 to January 1, I will be pretending that I am a native Brit and I will basically be spending my time doing the exact same things I would have done had I stayed in New York and saved myself $3000 seeing lots of plays, eating lots of food, spending tons of money, and other hopelessly touristic things!

I’ll definitely be writing about everything I see whilst there. As of now, the lineup is Richard II starring David Tennant, the new American Psycho musical, and the critically-lauded revival of Mojo.

Giggity giggity


Giggity Squared

I’m also planning on getting a ticket to see The Drowned Man, Punchdrunk’s latest immersive theater experience since Sleep No More.



A 12 foot tall Mr. Darcy statue (as played by the Firth) is working it in Hyde Park, London.


Can we do one of Hugh Jackman in Central Park PLEASE? (Ya know, before we work on getting universal healthcare or some other nonsense.)

#28- Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

What’s It About: A dog-murder mystery narrated by a 15 yr old autistic boy with family problems.

Why: Buzz, but mostly because the National Theatre (a publicly funded theatre in London that produces amazing stuff) recently adapted the novel to the stage and is airing it via NTLive to theatres across the U.S. and several other countries– get on that!

Thoughts: A fun, quick read that really amazingly puts the reader into the comprehensive gaze of an autistic child. It’s the novel’s greatest accomplishment. I can’t help comparing it to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. While Curious Incident is a masterful exercise in point-of-view, it lacks the emotional depth or resonant meaning that other tales of loss recovered have. So while I do appreciate the storytelling, there’s hardly much more to praise.

Reasons I Want to be in London Now

Epic-looking Ragtime production at London’s “Shakespeare In The Park”-esque Open Air Theatre. I confess, I’m a bit offended I wasn’t personally invited…Click photos for details

Art Exhibit About Invisible Art? I’ll bring my invisible art collection.

Shakespeare? AND Ben Whishaw? AND Tom Hiddleston?

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