On Stages: Strange love indeed, and the connection doesn’t end there – The Post

On Stages: Strange love indeed, and the connection doesn’t end there

Vanessa Poole and Kevin Benn (photo: Diego Monsiváis)
April 15th, 2019 1:00 pm| by Ben Hamilton

It would have been strange had Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of his social platform to ‘Facebook (or The Facebook)’, right? Or if Sean Combs insisted on being called ‘Puff (or Diddy or Puffy or P Diddy or Puff Daddy)’.

So why the hell did Shakespeare end up calling his play ‘Twelfth Night, Or what you will’? He came up with a crap name, thought of something better, but didn’t ditch the dead wood. And don’t start with the theory that it’s a clever pun on Will-boy not being the author of the plays.

What’s undeniable is that he’s the first in a succession of willies who couldn’t make up their mind. And it’s a long list, from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus to Dr Strangeglove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

But still, it’s quite an achievement that this spring the English-language theatre community of Copenhagen are offering up not one, but two plays with alternate titles.

Playmate of the month
The first of them even has a Shakespearean connection. Malmö’s only English-language theatre group Playmate, now in its third season, has selected Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (LiteraturHaus, Cph N; April 29-May 2; playmatetheatremalmo.co) – a title in which the former is the answer to the latter in a song in Two Gentlemen of Verona. It’s the kind of literary joke you could imagine someone making in the 1860s, but Albee actually penned this curious play about infidelity, betrayal and sexuality in 2002.

This will be Playmate’s second visit to Copenhagen following an acclaimed run of Talking Heads in 2017, with Kevin Benn and Vanessa Poole again on board, this time playing a couple whose family life is turned upside down when ‘Father’ declares his undying love for a certain Sylvia.

“It’s an exciting play, surprising, a little provocative, very honest, as cruel as it is funny – ‘laceratingly funny’ was how Damian Lewis put it last year,” revealed Poole.

“It’s the ultimate Greek tragedy. The dialogue snaps and sparkles with witty repartee between them all, etched underneath with a dripping despair. I’ve never heard of anybody who has watched The Goat and forgot it! It etches into you, and that is storytelling at its best.”

Pooling their resources
Poole, a founding member of both Playmate and Down the Rabbit Hole who will again be joining forces with Jeremy Thomas-Poulsen ‘south of the river’ for Sara Ruhl’s The Clean House later in the year, is a familiar face in Copenhagen thanks to a clutch of show-stealing performances. She is again looking forward to embracing what is a “fantastic role”, although she might have her work cut out given the magnitude of Benn’s part.

“This is a man at his most basic: his needs, his drives, his loves,” continued Poole. “In Scandinavia, every third marriage ends in divorce, and most can identify with how a relationship crisis can send a family into meltdown mode.”

Co-stars Jefferson Bond and David Barrett, meanwhile, are also established names – most notably in the Crazy Christmas Cabaret and Down the Rabbit Hole’s 2018 production of Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike respectively.

Tears on the pillow?
Barrett starred in the inspiration for the other play with alternate titles, The Director; or, Behind the Curtain of an Unravelling Theatre Company, a new work penned by Lee Elms based on his experience helming The Pillowman in 2017, which is part of his production Truth by Falsehood (April 23-30; Teaterøen).

Other than that, Elms isn’t giving too much away (well, maybe a little – read the full interview in the printed edition of CPH POST), but he promises a night of “truly shocking revelations and twists, along with innovative staging, direction and delivery”, which “some might hate and most will certainly never forget”.

Essentially it’s about the “struggle, the successes, the betrayals, the egos, the insecurities, the affairs, the divorces, the fisticuffs, the friendships broken” that defined the formation of Leftfield Theatre and its first play.

“The Copenhagen Post even comes into it,” he confided. Gulp! “This ain’t Hollywood and fuckin’ Birdman. This is real life.”

More divorce themes
Continuing with the alternate theme, The Director; or, Behind the Curtain of an Unravelling Theatre Company will be sharing the stage – four performances each over eight nights – with a trio of plays: Confessions, Not I and The Human Voice.

Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, Cordelia Lynn’s Confessions serves up kinky sex games as Hinrik Kanneworff (the standout in Leftfield’s Queers) locks horns with the captivating Maria Winther Nørgaard (similarly in That Theatre’s After Miss Julie).

A new spin is promised for Samuel Beckett’s Not I, but we’ll have to see in what direction. And the same can be expected for The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau – a play that chiefly concerns the final telephone conversation between two lovers, but this time it is the man unravelling before us. After all, “women initiate approximately 78 percent of all heterosexual divorces in Denmark,” pointed out Elms.

Indulging in Porter
Of course, secretly most women wish their husband could be more like Cole Porter, whose career is being celebrated by the London Toast production of Oh Baby, It’s Cole (Krudttønden; May 15-June 1; londontoast.dk), an original work penned by Vivienne McKee.

Porter, a master of his craft in the 1920s and 30s, was arguably the world’s first popular songwriter, but his was not a rags to riches story, according to McKee, a life-long admirer of his work.

“I admire Cole, not just for his brilliant catchy melodies and his witty, clever lyrics, but also for surviving his background,” she contended.

“He was born rich, spoilt and well-connected. He could have wasted his life in indulgent pursuits and left no mark at all, but instead he chose to work hard and become the musical genius he is now acknowledged to be.”

Best of the rest
Finally this spring, there are three huge stage festivals to look forward to, starting with Copenhagen International Improv Festival (April 15-20; improvcomedy.eu), which is a welcome distraction during Easter, a time when Denmark tends to be incredibly quiet.

Next up, the Copenhagen Theatre Circle’s Fringe Festival (Krudttønden; May 2-4; ctcircle.dk) has a line-up of seven plays to look forward to, with lots of familiar names involved, including CBS Theatre head honcho Marley Hasselbach, who is directing Darella & the Vikings.

And finally, Copenhagen Stage (various venues; May 23-June 1; cphstage.dk) once again has a huge line-up of plays that are accessible to non-Danish speakers. Some 29 are in English, and a further 13 are non-verbal.

Puck and Pacman
Among the line-up are two Shakespeare plays, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and upon reflection, has there ever been a play in which the characters have so many aliases?

It’s bad enough that all of the rude mechanicals have full names and professions, as well as the parts they play in ‘Pyramus and Thisby’, but why on earth does the play’s dramatis personæ need to tell us that the mischievous fairy Puck is also called Robin Goodfellow.

Learn the lesson of Pacman, a name born out of the fear that 1980s arcade dwellers would deface the original Japanese choice of Puckman to spell out Fuckman.

Which in a word is exactly my sentiments. If you change it, just move on.


All of the productions mentioned in this column are performed in English.