Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Category: Theatre

Review: Siddhartha the Musical

The List
2 August 2014
4 stars

Siddhartha the Musical

Siddhartha the Musical

A Buddhist musical about spiritual enlightenment, with lasers, fireball projections, porn heels and pounding Euro beats? And it all began as a rehabilitation programme in a maximum security prison in Milan? It’s unlikely you’d imagine any of that, when you hear they’ve made a stage version of Herman Hesse’s 1920s novel about the Buddha’s journey. But, welcome this glorious oddity into your life with pure love, for it is as utterly mesmerising as it is ridiculous.

The opening scenes feel like stumbling into a cruise ship ballroom. Spray-tanned, nimble gym bodies leap across the set, belting out lyrics like ‘Gods of the sky! What is the meaning of life?’ The glossy, high-camp production follows Siddhartha’s journey – pampered ‘I’m alright Jack’ prince, then homeless truth-seeker, and eventually radiant wise man (portrayed by a Richard Gere-ish Michael Nouri, the one American/English actor in the otherwise Italian language, subtitled production). It’s a loincloth-version of Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane, transported to a meditation class, with more-is-more singing to accompany it all – and that unlikely combo leads to something incredibly enjoyable, perhaps not necessarily for the reasons the producers had in mind. Regardless, the enlightened crowd are up on their feet for an ovation when it ends.

Assembly Rooms, 0844 693 3008, until 24 (not 6,13), 6.10pm, £15 (£12).

Interview: Anne Archer on The Trial of Jane Fonda

The List
15 July 2014

Anne Archer and cast in The Trial of Jane Fonda

Anne Archer and cast in The Trial of Jane Fonda

When Jane Fonda outraged US public opinion during the Vietnam War, was she exercising free speech or being duped by a PR machine? Claire Sawers talks to Anne Archer about the new play that sheds light on a dark period in America’s past

Jane Fonda is famous for plenty things. Writhing around in wet-look silver as a coquettish space traveller in thigh boots for Barbarella. Lunging and reaching through aerobics workouts, shrink-wrapped in Lycra leotards and building up her own fitness empire. Waltzing her way to an Oscar nomination in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. And wisecracking in Nine to Five alongside Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin. But her haters remember Fonda most for an ill-advised move she made during the Vietnam War.

On a 1972 visit to a Hanoi military base, she sat down on an anti-aircraft gun. It belonged to the Vietnamese, and was designed to shoot US soldiers. Perched there, with ammunition piled at her feet, Fonda laughed, pulled goofy faces, winked, clapped her hands, and joked with Vietnamese people around her. She’d been a staunch anti-war activist for a couple of years by that point, and part of the FTA (‘Fuck the Army’) travelling sketch troupe with Donald Sutherland.

This was the last straw. When photos got out, it was taken as her petulantly flipping the bird to the US military, and anyone who supported it. Soldiers called her ‘Hanoi Jane’ and it stuck. Cadets at the US Naval Academy learned to chant ‘Goodnight, Jane Fonda!’ and the whole company would shout back ‘Goodnight, bitch!’ Even now, a Google search throws up pages of hate-filled posts about the ‘whore of communism’ and her ‘ugly little mouth’.

‘It was a terrible, terrible mistake,’ says Anne Archer, who’ll be playing Fonda in a new Fringe drama which focuses on her controversial anti-Vietnam activism. ‘The whole country was protesting and not just the hippy movement: everyone was rebelling against the war. I don’t care how tired she was, she shouldn’t have sat on that tank. But she regrets it, and she says she will regret it until the day she dies.’

The Trial of Jane Fonda zooms in on a later event during the 1980s, where Fonda was in Connecticut, faced with irate Vietnam vets who tried to stop her filming the movie Stanley & Iris. It was her co-star Robert De Niro who suggested she met with them in an attempt to defuse things. That sit-down is the crux of this new play, and helps unravel how a hot property celebrity of the time got drawn into a war of spin, political protesting and accusations of treason: on both sides.

‘It becomes pretty apparent that she was used,’ shrugs Archer, a sage mix of calm, reticence and softness, who you may recognise as the docile brunette that Michael Douglas cheated on in Fatal Attraction, or Harrison Ford’s surgeon wife in Patriot Games. ‘How can we say for certain that that day with the gun wasn’t a stunt or a trap?’ says Archer. Like her husband Terry Jastrow, who wrote and directed the play, she’s done her homework into Fonda’s life, using an especially fine-toothed comb to run through that day at the army base.

Glenn Close and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction

Glenn Close and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction

‘Jane wasn’t the only one protesting; everyone was speaking out, but she was particularly famous at that time. She was Henry Fonda’s daughter and she’d just won an Academy Award [for Klute]: the press would grab at anything she’d do.’

Archer, who founded and runs Artists for Human Rights, which raises awareness for the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, believes Fonda was just a propaganda pawn, someone in the limelight who needed to be publicly brought down a peg or two after speaking out against the war.

‘Jane herself admits she is someone who was eager to please, especially the men in her life: her father, her husbands,’ says Archer. ‘On that day, she had told her guides three times that she didn’t want to visit a military installation. They insist, she doesn’t want to disappoint, she’s exhausted, she agrees: suddenly there are film crews around which haven’t been there before. If it hadn’t happened to her, they’d have found someone else. When you live to hate, there’s always someone to target.’

Jastrow wrote to Fonda about his plans to make a movie about her activism, but she tried to talk him out of it. LA film producers took one look at his screenplay and dropped the ‘hot potato’. Jastrow wasn’t listening and decided to bring a world theatre premiere to Edinburgh. He hopes that his combination of research (he tracked down Fonda’s guides and interpreters in Hanoi, and stayed with the actress at her Santa Fe ranch), plus his leading lady (‘Anne Archer is a class act, world class’, he beams about his wife) will give this story the clout it needs to go down well with Fringe audiences. Ultimately, he hopes it will make it to the West End.

‘Vietnam was the first televised war,’ Jastrow explains. ‘That in itself interests me, but the issues Jane’s story brings up are universal and timeless. We saw them again with Iraq and North Korea, and we’ll keep seeing them. America considers itself a country where we permit dissent, free thought, and freedom of speech. Does opposing war make you a peacemaker or a traitor? I know some sleeping dogs should be left to lie, especially when they are very vicious, aggressive ones. But it’s only by looking at our past that we stand any chance of not repeating it.’

The Trial of Jane Fonda, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0844 693 3008, 1–24 Aug (not 11), 4.05pm, £16 (£13). Previews 30 & 31 Jul, £10.

Read the original interview at The List here

Review: Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed’s Internal

The List
13 August 2009
4 stars

Powerful, disarming exercise in human interaction Continue reading

Theatre review: Daniel Kitson’s The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

The List
10 August 2009
5 stars

 

Old, forgotten, secret and hidden stuff all push Daniel Kitson’s buttons. It’s one of the reasons why he’s ‘an inveterate emotional hoarder’ and won’t throw away mementoes and decades-old love letters. The comedian and playwright also loves glimpsed lives; fleeting snapshots of someone’s routine, as it allows for projection of whatever heroic, romantic or tragic back-story he wants.

So when Kitson finds an attic full of boxes of letters while househunting, his mind starts racing. This 90-minute monologue pieces together the rewound life of Gregory Church, who began typing suicide letters 24 years before he died. Key Kitson themes recur: cherished friendships, unrequited affection, razor-sharp rants against the media, and these are acted out through ‘the derogatory bombasts’, officious complaints and tender confessions that Church types.

Just as Kitson finds sifting through over 30,000 letters an ‘exciting, nourishing and comforting’ process, his breathless, detailed, verbose delivery, which gathers pace towards its soaring finale, is an exhilarating experience for the audience. As details emerge, stories intertwine and revelations unfold, Kitson’s genius emerges, once again. Interminably talented, and staggeringly good.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 30 Aug (not 17, 24, 29), 10.15pm, £14–£16 (£10–£11).

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