Deborah Warner’s The School for Scandal

In my final event during the 2011 edition of the Holland Festival, I went to see the performance of Barbican’s production of The School for Scandal – directed by Deborah Warner. For the past years rather arbitrary with my picks from the festival, mainly getting tickets to whatever sounds interesting, and ignoring any information out there about these productions, because, well, that’s more interesting for me. My relationships with reading reviews after seeing things would be another blog post topic probably. But long story short, I look at how a production was received after going and having my own opinion.

With Deborah Warner’s The School for Scandal, it was a bit the other way around. After ordering my tickets of TSfS, I realized, or rather Guardian.co.uk’s RSS feed gently pointed me towards the review of Michael Billington for the same Barbican production. What caught my eye on the RSS fed was that it was rated 2 out of 5 stars. Something in my head went “huh, I doubt Holland Festival would bring a bad production… wonder what that is about”. So I read the review.

The review is basically Mr Billington finding the production a weird and forced mixture of periods, the contemporary and the 18th century setting of the play. Yet, watching TSfS, I found that this was the best thing about it. It wasn’t just another play set in the 18th century, with every single thing about it as traditional as can be. It was fun, entertaining, and still got its message across. It was modern, it made the whole theater laugh. Yes, it starts loud and “modern” with the fashion show-like start, and yes, it is funny to see someone in a 18th century dress show the other something on their mobile phone. But it is so refreshing to see a director do something with the material. Make it their own. Interpret it.

Of course not everyone will like it. But for me, seeing the interesting idea for set design, seeing the entertaining act/scene references in random parts of the stage, the modern bits and pieces popping up randomly (like the pink socks and sneakers of Charles Surface) is much more rewarding than if this had been set in one period and within its limits.

To me, and to most people in the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam yesterday, Warner’s TSfS was engaging, entertaining, and special. That despite the fact that I was one of the younger people in the audience.

The School for Scandal - Barbican

The School for Scandal - Barbican

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Fela!

One of my favorite times in the Netherlands is June, mainly because it is usually pretty decent weather for Dutch summer standards, and the whole month has a lot to offer because of the Holland Festival. The festival has been running for some time, and for the past three years, I always found 3-4 different things that I really really wanted to see. It has diverse programming, so last year I ended up seeing a New York production of Shakespeare, a Japanese opera/theater performance and a few other things.

This year, I opened the festival with Fela! – the Broadway musical about the life and music of Fela Kuti. The musical started as an off-Broadway musical sometime around 2008, got to Broadway rather quickly, and has been quite successful in Broadway musical terms, getting several Tony awards. For me, it was a great opportunity, as there are no NYC trips in the near future.

The musical is set in the Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria at Fela’ last concert. It is the summer of 1978, six months after the death of Fela’s mother Funmilaya. Now, I don’t know if I should be writing about the detailed context of why it is Fela Kuti’s last concert, the circumstances of his mother’s death and his political status in Nigeria at the time, but this would actually cause the musical to lose some of its power. Essentially, the musical is more of an introduction Fela Kuti’s story, ideals and music; so if I were to write what he did, how he came up with “afro-beat” and how he changed the political scene in Nigeria with his songs, you wouldn’t exactly be blown away by watching the musical.

Fela!

The first act is a energy-blast; filled with the start of Fela Kuti’s career, his love for music, and finding his own sound, the afro-beat. It is interactive, though if I said how, what’s the point of going? By the second act, however, politics get in the way, the energy slows down, the afro-beat is in the background, and we are left with the indecision of Fela leaving his home in Nigeria, because it has gotten too dangerous for people around him. The lack of balance in terms of energy may not be the strong point for the musical, but it is a highly entertaining spectacle, and a good introduction to Fela Kuti if you need it.

So, go watch it, if you have the change to do so during the Holland Festival in Amsterdam until June 24th, and otherwise in New York. Then come back home and listen to Fela Kuti’s music.