Monday, June 25, 2007

To Russia With Love

After the glorious finale to Utopiadom in New York, attention is now being shifted to the country from which it all came. The Guardian interviews Tom Stoppard in Moscow amid the arduous but seemingly fascinating Russian rehearsals (which according to Mr. Butler Harner have been going on since November 2005!) Although in some respects the transition seems to be proceeding well, there does appear to have been the odd hiccup:

When rehearsing the second act on stage, the cast immediately runs into difficulties. Herzen, his wife Natalie and their friend George are discussing Marx:

H: But Marx is a bourgeois from the anus up.
N: Alexander! I won't have that word . . .
H: Sorry, middle class.

"I don't understand when you're having fun and when you're being sincere," Stoppard interjects. Ilya is baffled: "Is it a joke?" "I find it really interesting that you have to ask that!" says Stoppard. "Really interesting." The Russians explain that the joke doesn't work in Russian. "Because we don't really have this word 'bourgeois', meaning middle class." Until recently, Russians have not even used the word "middle class". "Well, what is that word?" asks Stoppard. "It must be equivalent to 'bourgeois'." Ilya explains that when Herzen says "Sorry, middle class", it sounds as if he's saying "Sorry, I said that rude word because I'm middle class". "Look," Stoppard says, "what about 'Sorry, I mean middle class'?" This works. And he realises that this discussion has opened a door.

Jason Butler Harner, meanwhile has written a lovely piece for the Theatre Communications Group. The ex-Mr Turgenev gives another wonderful insight into the memorable episodes of the gargantuan ride, such as Marathon curtain call number one:

On the walk downstage, I had a split second of crystallization. Time stopped. White noise. I inhaled. A profoundly calm, communal moment happened in a hair's breadth…the moment so sought after by the creative spirit and so frequently avoided. The unwavering fervor of the audience pulled me back. And then came the real gift of staring into the eyes of specific strangers and thanking them. The reciprocal strength demanded and garnered in locking eyes and sharing a silent "thank you" and "we made it" leaves one speechless. I will never experience anything like it my lifetime again. The Utopians then celebrated into the wee hours singing rounds of "The Tsar is dead!" in a Midtown bar.

To coincide with Sir Tom's 70th birthday on July 3rd, BBC radio are running a special celebration of his work from June 29-July 15, including the broadcast debut of Rock'n'Roll on Radio 3, July 8. Fellow Guardian-er Michael Billington adds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to the schedule, and is finding it hard to believe Mr Stoppard's age after finding him 'as youthfully effervescent as ever'. The only other plays on the BBC Radio 4 schedule yet are Albert's Bridge, Arcadia and 15-minute Hamlet. Fingers crossed for Utopia! All will be available online post-broadcast.

Sticking with the radio theme, Tony Award winner and Utopia costume designer extraordinaire Catherine Zuber is among the next batch of interviewees for Downstage Center. We'll post the link when it's up.

There is also a post-Tonys piece by the Telegraph which seems to have swum past our fishing rod. Again, I apologize on behalf of my country for the uncalled for first sentence. And clearly some Brits need a lesson as to what 'Broadway' means. (Please correct me if I am wrong here). It is also interesting that the aforementioned Michael Billington is one of those who seems to have doubted the ability of a revival! In the comments section meanwhile, reader Simon Coulter asked a question that I think is on all of our minds:

I do though wonder what you do with lots of Tonys and all those other awards - are they dust gatherers or can you keep them on a (rather large) mantelpiece?

Happy thought indeed! The best first sentence award goes to Times Online's Benedict Nightingale, who says that 'there are no dramatists for whom I'd rather risk deep-vein thrombosis than Tom Stoppard' even if the other half of the sentence is 'but his nine-hour flight through mid-19th-century Russian history isn't the easiest ride'.

Elsewhere on the web, theatre-insider Emma spied Ms Ehle through the crowds at the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet performance in Central Park, and describes her as 'the most angelic other-worldly presence I have ever seen'. On a more jovial note, thefridayfive are keen to remake Gone with the Wind with Ms Ehle as Scarlett. Funding, anyone?

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