Tonight At 8:30 (pt2) – August 2006

Experience: 3/10

By Noel Coward

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 31st August 2006

This was much better than part one. Josefina had done something with her voice, and now I could hear every word. In fact, I lost very few lines at all this time around.

Hands Across the Sea started the evening. Aristocratic couple, plus friends dropping in for a chat and a drink, entertain a middle class couple who looked after the wife briefly during a world tour. Sadly, it’s not the couple they think they’re entertaining, and they have to find out who the guests actually are. Sounds funnier than it is. There were a few good laughs, especially the wife’s reaction when she realises her mistake, but overall the piece was very dated. Most of the laughs were based on posh folk not even noticing when they’re getting other people caught up in the trailing telephone cable, and the (relatively) lower classes being too terrified to move out of the way or disentangle themselves. All pretty far fetched today.

         Fumed Oak was easily the best piece of both parts. The opening scene didn’t promise much – a wife, daughter and grandmother having breakfast and bickering amongst themselves. Father arrives and is scarcely noticed, sitting quietly at the end of the table. Grandma and mother are constantly sniping over every possible bone of contention – noisy plumbing, bringing up the daughter, money, etc. No wonder the poor husband gets out of the house without finishing his breakfast.

Scene two was wonderful. The worm turns. Father comes home to find a cold supper laid out for him, while the three women are about to go off to the cinema. He puts a stop to that by locking the door and removing the key – they’re going to hear what he has to say, and he doesn’t hold back. His wife tricked him into marriage years ago when she was worried she’d be left on the shelf, by pretending she was pregnant – the baby finally arrived three years later! Despite this, he’s shelved his own plans and worked to support the family – a wife who’s cold-hearted and mean-spirited and a daughter he frankly can’t stand. Gran has plenty of money of her own, apparently, while he’s saved up £572 from his wages, and plans to go off and live a bit while he still has the chance. Plates are thrown, Gran gets slapped (though she recovers enough to be crawling around the floor picking up the £50 he’s leaving for his wife and child), and the whole rumpus was very satisfactory.

Shadow Play finished the evening. An interesting piece, it set up the premise of a fashionable couple, tired of each other, where the husband asks for divorce, or does he? She’s taken some sedative or sleeping pills, and starts feeling strange while they’re talking. Suddenly she’s seeing how things used to be, and they reprise their relationship, cutting back and forth from the present to the past – very dreamlike. It also allows for some lovely cameos by the rest of the cast, as waiters, suitors, gondoliers, etc. Much of this is musical, with songs and dances, broken by patches of dialogue. Finally, we come back to the present, where she’s being fed black coffee by her husband, with the maid and a concerned friend in support. As she settles back to sleep, she tells her husband they can talk about divorce tomorrow, but he’s certain he never asked her for one. Intriguing, and nicely ambiguous.

That was it, and we were glad we lowered our expectations to rock bottom – we ended up enjoying it even more, and this was definitely our preferred selection (though we wouldn’t go out of way to see these again).

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Funny Money – August 2006

Experience: 2/10

By Ray Cooney

Venue Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 29th August 2006

Not one of Ray Cooney’s best. We smiled a fair bit, laughed out loud several times, and we’re happy enough to support the Connaught, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this one again.

Man picks up wrong briefcase, finds it’s full of money, tries to run off with his wife, ends up running off with almost every member of the cast. Lots of homosexual innuendo (haven’t we outgrown that yet?) people having to pretend to be other (imaginary) characters, and two identical briefcases. The cast did their best and there were some fun moments, especially when things went wrong, so the evening wasn’t completely wasted. At least Ray Cooney keeps it short!

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Two Gentlemen Of Verona – August 2006

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Guti Fraga

Company: Nos Do Morro and Gallery37

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Sunday 27th August 2006

This was our first visit to the Courtyard Theatre, so I had put all my expectations to one side on two counts. Both the play and the venue turned out to be excellent.

First the theatre itself. This is a larger version of the Swan, much larger, and at first I wondered what sort of atmosphere there would be when there was so much space to fill. The flat, black stage reminded me of so many Swan productions, and there seemed to be the usual balconies and side entrances, although the centrepiece at the back may be part of the Henrys set. [Yes, it is.] The seats were the best I’ve ever sat in – tall back, well padded, plenty of room, including leg room. Although we were in the second row of the stalls, we could see well enough over the heads in front. The screen for the surtitles (a last minute decision to show these, apparently) was placed centrally, roughly halfway up the back construction thingummy. This made it much easier to follow the action and read the lines, although our view was blocked occasionally by the actors.

But who needs the English version when the performance is this good? The production was a joint venture between Nos Do Morro, a company in Brazil which gives young people training in theatre and performing arts, and Gallery37, a project based in Birmingham which is due to spread through the country, which again helps young people with difficult backgrounds. Most of the dialogue was spoken in Portuguese, and I didn’t care. I know the play well enough, and from the opening exchange between Valentine and Proteus the acting made the emotions clear. I am going to have to rethink my preference for hearing the English, as it just isn’t working out.

To start with, a group of about twenty-six young folk assembled on stage, faces straight, looking quite sombre, and packed into a square formation. All at once, they broke into music, dance and song, very lively. I have no idea what the song was about, but it was fun. To finish, they closed back up into the square and ‘switched off’. Then the play proper began. The actors used benches at the back to wait their turn, giving a lovely informal feel to the whole piece.

The opening scene between Valentine and Proteus was well acted. It was clear who was the lover and who the traveller. Behind the main action, within a ring of cloth on the floor, stood two other actors, miming to amplify the exchange between the two friends. Throughout the play, actors stood in for scenery, sometimes as chairs, sometimes as doors or walls. One time the spare actors stood in a line, with two of the women holding cloths diagonally to represent doors. This allowed the actors involved in the scene to burst through one set of doors, and, as the walls and doors flowed round ahead of them, through another set. Very effective.

Cloth was another main feature of the production. As well as cloths being used to mark out spaces, various characters wore ponchos, wrapped bits of cloth round themselves, and the letters and papers used in the play were all cloth. The love letter Julia receives from Proteus is made of cloth patches, loosely stitched together, so that she can rip it apart easily.

Probably the star of the show, if there could be one in such an even-handed production, was the dog, Crab. Often a scene-stealer, this particular dog was of the human variety. He was so mischievous, cocking his leg over the audience, having a crap on stage, and shagging one character’s leg pretty vigorously. Each time, he would end up looking quite innocent, tongue hanging out, head on one side. Marvellous fun.

The British participants were mainly involved in the forest scenes, as part of the outlaw band, so we heard the occasional line in English during these scenes. Mostly, though, it was an energetic, expressive version of the play, which got across all the characters and their relationships really well. It was all the more amazing because the two groups had only got together to work on the piece a few days before, and this was the only scheduled performance, so they had no time to bed it in.

After the enthusiastic applause, we were treated to a post-show discussion with all of the cast and the director Guti Fraga, who founded Nos do Morro. This was basically a giant love-in, as all the actors were still pumped up after their excellent performance, and it obviously meant so much to them to have been so well received. Cicely Berry also joined them, and she is clearly much loved by all in both groups. I don’t remember much of what was said – a lot of the information is in the programme notes, anyway – but there was a lovely sense of camaraderie, of the depth of loving and support amongst the group, and the strength of Guti Fraga’s commitment to helping young people realise their potential in a region of the world that most of us would find challenging. It was a heart-warming experience, and I hope there will be more visits from companies such as this one, once the RSC has completed its redevelopment.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Henry VIII – August 2006

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregory Thompson

Company: AandBC

Venue: Holy Trinity Church

Date: Friday 25th August 2006

Only one snag with this production, otherwise it would have been a 10/10 at least – the performance space was so uncomfortable and made viewing the performance so difficult that I had to leave at the interval (the late interval), as my neck was already stiffening up, my back was complaining, my bum wasn’t too happy, and I’d missed about half of the dialogue! This was the kind of production that makes you wonder why a play isn’t done more often – what I could see and hear of it was mostly clear, brilliantly performed and very entertaining. I hope they bring it to a proper theatre near us soon!

I particularly enjoyed Antony O’Donnell’s performance as Wolsey – a masterpiece of cunning, conniving, and political manipulation – he could give lessons to the current generation of spin doctors. Special mention also to Corinne Jaber as Queen Katherine, superbly regal and passionate. Anne Boleyn was interesting – although it’s assumed the play is flattering Elizabeth I, as it ends with her baptism, her mother is shown here to be only interested in power and wealth – just how flattering would that have been? All the other parts were great, and despite the discomfort, I found the closeness to the action, and inclusion of the audience in a lot of it, was great fun. I gather the old adage was demonstrated again – never work with children… According to Steve, the baby performing this night was adorable, and few people noticed what the actors were doing during the baptism scene as all eyes were on her at the end.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Kingfisher – August 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Douglas-Home

Venue Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 21st August 2006

This was a fairly straightforward comedy about an older man trying to get back together with an old flame, the one true love of his life, now that her husband’s died. In fact, he’s invited her to stop off for tea on the way back from the funeral! His tactlessness was one of the main sources of comedy, although a scene where the two older love-birds attempt to sit on a grassy mound to relive their youthful love affair became very funny when they try to get up again.

It was a three-hander, with Francis Matthews and Honor Blackman playing the two leads, supported by the faithful butler, who has been in love with the master of the house for many years. The wobbly he threw at thinking he’s no longer wanted was good fun. Not a bad piece, though a little dated, but well performed.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – August 2006

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Kahn

Company: Shakespeare Theatre Company

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Friday 18th August 2006

Hooray – another wonderful American production! First, the pre-show. The director, Michael Kahn and the composer, Adam Wernock, spoke with us for about 45 minutes on the creative processes that led to the production being as it is. That is, the director spoke, the composer mainly listened, and Carol Rutter, who chaired the whole thing, took much too long to put the questions. However, it was very informative. Kahn explained how the theatre had come about – the library it’s attached to had (and still has?) the biggest collection of Shakespeare folios in existence. They decided about 25/30 years ago to make use of a courtyard area for productions of the plays, and this proved so successful they had to expand. Unfortunately, the library wasn’t keen to be involved, and so at this point the citizens of Washington DC chipped in and contributed enough money to enable a theatre to be created within a run-down area of Washington that was being redeveloped. He commented that since most residents of Washington are transitory, politics being what it is, this was quite remarkable (but then Will has a habit of turning up trumps!).

From the second year or so, he was invited to be artistic director of the new theatre (although I’m not sure if he had such a grand title then). Since that time they’ve performed five Shakespeare plays each year, doing over twenty of them in all. They’ve also had strong links with the RSC, which has brought over its productions regularly. Sometimes these clashed, and after a while, the Americans stopped trying to compete, and just avoided doing the plays the RSC was bringing over.

Because of these links, Michael Boyd was keen to have the company over for the Complete Works Festival, and his only request was that they do a comedy. Apparently everyone was relieved when they chose Love’s Labour’s Lost, as no one else wanted to do it. Kahn had first seen the play many years before at the National, directed by Olivier, and was scared to find there were no laughs in it. As he was due to direct it, he re-read the piece, and developed a strong sense of the play as commenting on relationships between men and women, and particularly the way the men were becoming more feminine, while the women were very strong and kept trouncing the men easily. He likened it to the situation at that time, the 1960s; young men wearing robes, with long hair, going off to India to meditate and attempting to find spiritual enlightenment, while women were burning bras and discovering their strength and power. So he used a contemporary setting for his first production. Later in the talk he observed that any way of staging Shakespeare is valid as long as it serves to illuminate the text, and doesn’t simply hijack it for the director’s own purposes. (Here, here!)

For this production, he decided to return to the 60s setting, for two main reasons. Firstly, he was interested to see how it would work looking back over forty years, given our different awareness and understanding today. Secondly, because the setting still conveys much of the sense that Shakespeare was trying to get across with this play. Like most reflections or talks on Will’s work, he started by describing LLL as a very complex play (come on then, tell us which Shakespeare play isn’t complex?). The specific problems with this play are the lack of plot, and the incredibly rich language and word plays, much too obscure for most modern audience members to grasp. Shakespeare is just showing off how good he is with words (no argument there) but without the skills as a dramatist that he develops later, the play lacks the substance of other works such as Much Ado. Paradoxically, Kahn asserted that despite these difficulties, whenever LLL has been staged, it has been successful; the play seems to have some inbuilt attraction.

The composer got a few words in about this time. Because there’s so much poetry in the play – the would-be-lovers are always penning love sonnets – they decided to put them to music, so the composer had a lot of work to do, researching American bands of that time and choosing suitable tunes to match the rhythm of each verse. Some parts of the poem were used as a chorus, and when they realised all four actors were on stage at the end of the first half, with their instruments, they added a full blown musical number to round off the half (see below for effect). Although some of the actors had some experience with their instruments, none had enough for this, so they all had to work really hard to reach a good level of proficiency.

To the performance itself. What a treat! I tried to calm my expectations before we saw it, as the pre-show had made it sound really good, but I didn’t have to worry. We saw the set during the pre-show – Indian temple/palace, lots of vast pots with orange/yellow/red flowers, lavishly decorated pillars, a couple of seats and a couple of palm trees. The King of Navarre was translated into an Asian nobleman/king, bent on raising his spiritual awareness, and welcomed three American rock stars to join him in this three year retreat. They made the inevitable mistake of signing up to the celibacy thing just before Berowne reminded the King he’s got an imminent meeting with a woman, the King of France’s daughter, no less. How stupid are these guys, to forget a thing like that? Anyway, we had some fun seeing the King tell off Costard for consorting with a woman, knowing that he’s going to suffer for love himself before long. Costard was played as an American hippy which fitted well with the setting but didn’t get some aspects of his part across so well. Still he was good fun, especially the spliff-rolling and slogan chanting.

Don Armado was entertaining too, but even better was his little page, Moth. Often played by a boy actor, here he was played as an Indian servant by Nick Choksi, a young man, who was able to deliver the lines much more clearly and wring much more humour from the dialogue and the situation. Don Armado had a habit of throwing his arms wide and letting his fancy cane fly off in the process. One of Moth’s jobs was to catch this cane, and redeliver it on cue; he did this brilliantly, and I got a lot more out of this portrayal than I have before. I also found Don Armado more sympathetic. He came across as pompous, certainly, but there were more glimpses of his vulnerability, especially when his threadbare clothing was revealed beneath his coat before the duel.

The ladies arrived on Vespas, in pastel shades matching their outfits, Boyet riding pillion with one of the ladies. Their costumes were A-line dresses as short as you can get away with, knee-high boots, and their hair was a combination of 60s straight and 80s big. From the outset, these women were clearly more savvy than the men, which made the attempted wooing scenes all the more fun. One gem of this particular setting was when the wooers approached dressed as Russians. Since this was the 1960s, and they were pretending to be Russian, what better than putting them in space suits with helmets to disguise who they are? The men space-walked onto stage, slowly and ponderously, to the introduction from 2001. Brilliant.

But the highlight of the production was the poem-writing and discovery scene. As three of the men were musicians, naturally they were composing songs to their loves. This scene was marvellous, as the music brought the poetry to life. Longaville actually pushed his drum kit onto the stage for his rendition, and when Dumaine arrived, he threw a cover over himself and the drums. Then, as Dumaine started his ballad, the others joined in, Berowne up one of the palm trees on his guitar, Longaville on his drums, and the King, I think, had a tambourine or some such. Song done, each watcher revealed himself, and after a lengthy equivocation from Berowne to justify breaking their oaths, the first half closed with a song from the group + the King – a great way to end the act.

All the minor characters were good. For once I enjoyed the schoolteacher, Holofernes, and his accomplice, Sir Nathaniel. Holofernes looked somewhat dishevelled and the worse for wear, á la Sir Les Patterson. His conceit was set up very nicely, showing us how pretentious both he and Don Armado were. The nine Worthies part was the best I have seen. Dull, the policeman, was OK, though not up to the standard of the others, while Jaquenetta was stunning and danced provocatively at every opportunity. This was simply the best Love’s Labour’s Lost I have seen.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Carousel – August 2006

Experience: 2/10

By Rodgers and Hammerstein

Directed by Angus Jackson

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 7th August 2006

I’m not a great one for musicals, and this wasn’t going to change my mind. Some of the songs were good, but it seemed desperately underwritten, especially at the end, where the story just seemed to peter out. Not having seen it before, I don’t know how much this was down to the production, and how much to the piece itself, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s just dated badly.

The cast seemed fine, especially the heroine’s sidekick, and I liked the scenery and costumes. The best scene was the song ‘My Boy Bill’, where we actually get to see a character develop and grow. If the rest of it had been up to that standard I would have been well happy. Despite my interest in all things spiritual, I found the heaven-based scenes artificial and out of synch with the rest of the piece. Roy Dotrice was enjoyable, though.

All in all, I’m glad I’ve seen it, but I would need some real incentive to go again.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at