Therese Raquin – November 2006

Experience: 3/10

By Emile Zola, adapted by Nicholas Wright

Directed by Marianne Elliot

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Tuesday 28th November 2006

          This was a disappointment in a number of ways. Although it started off well, and the performances were excellent, the adaptation has problems, and the production lacked the thrill and suspense I associated with the first version we saw back at Chichester in 1990.

         One of the main difficulties I had was with the “music”. I presume they were trying to depict the tension the couple were living under after the murder, and were using a repetitive, droning chord – I don’t know what instrument was being used, but for me it was an instrument of torture. I believe such sounds are actually used to cause people physical discomfort, and it certainly worked that way for me. I didn’t find it too disturbing until near the end, but by then it was giving me a headache and making it very hard to concentrate on the play. I even considered leaving, but reckoned I didn’t have much longer to endure – even so, I wouldn’t voluntarily go through that sort of abuse again.

         One advantage of the Chichester production was the small space of the Minerva Theatre, which made the whole atmosphere much more claustrophobic. On the Lyttelton stage, a wide open space, it was much harder to create that sense, although the description of the flat as draughty was certainly believable. Somehow the couple’s secret passion didn’t come across so well, perhaps because Therese was played with very little show of emotion, so a lot of the action seemed a bit dreary at times. We certainly didn’t need such a long series of tableaux of the couple’s restlessness and divisions – once through the loop would have been more than enough. Frankly, by the time they chose to end it all, I was glad to see the back of them.

         The set was pretty bleak. A large room, with windows high up, grey walls everywhere, a kitchen area off left, flanking the stairway down to the shop, doors to a walk-in wardrobe, the door to Madame Raquin’s room, then the cubby-hole bed for the son and niece. With only a large table and a few chairs to furnish it, this flat looked very empty. A screen was used to distance us from the action at the start and end of scenes, God knows why, as I already felt distanced enough from the action after a short time. The cast were superb, given the limitations of the adaptation. Camille was talkative and fussy, just the sort of husband you’d want to bump off if a looker like Ben Daniels came your way. I didn’t feel the sense of danger with his Laurent as I did first time round, but that’s this production for you. Therese was very withdrawn, though she did show her passionate side in the early scene with Laurent. Mainly, she seemed to hate rather than love, to want revenge for the way she’d been treated, and sex with Laurent was as good a way as any. Definitely a woman to avoid. It’s not clear in this version how often they’ve been having sex, possibly just the once? Maybe I was just missing bits – with such a large auditorium (more of a lecture hall than a theatre) it can be difficult to pick up all the dialogue.

         The family friends – M Grivet and M Michaud – who turn up regularly to play dominoes, were great fun, especially Mark Hadfield as Grivet, all fussiness and self-concern. Madame Raquin managed a good line in self-concern as well, resolutely thinking of nobody but herself, and by extension, Camille, the whole play through. Actually, it’s a little amazing that Therese stayed as sane as she did.

         I found Suzanne, Michaud’s niece, an odd character. The part seemed to be well enough played, although I probably missed more of her lines than anyone else’s, but I was never too clear on what her part in the drama was. Was she just there to show a more normal approach to relationships? Or were we meant to contrast her naivety and idealism with Therese’s experience and world-weariness? We may never know. And given that I didn’t enjoy this production enough, I’m unlikely to read the playtext to find out.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

King Lear – November 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Tse Ka-shing

Company: Yellow Earth Theatre & Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 23rd November 2006

          Although part of the Complete Works Festival, we opted to see this production in Guildford, on its tour of the UK. I found it interesting, though not as emotionally engaging as I’m used to with Lear. The mixture of actors – half from the UK, speaking mainly English, and half from China, speaking mainly Mandarin – worked pretty well, although it can’t have been easy rehearsing this work. Checking out the surtitles, I realised that sometimes a short English line would translate to about two minutes of Chinese, while long English lines would occasionally produce a few terse Chinese syllables. I did feel this affected the rhythm of the piece, with some bits of dialogue trundling on long past the delivery of the emotional content (or the time it took to read the surtitles, depending).

The core idea was of a slightly futuristic world, with China now the major superpower, and Lear handing over the reins of his global business empire to his three daughters. Some of this worked quite well, and some just jarred. The final battle between Cordelia’s forces and the sisters’ troops was shown as a trading war on the exchange floor, with figures flying up and down so fast it was impossible to see what was going on. Hardly life and death. And what was the purpose? To break the Lear business empire? A bit difficult to do in one trading session, I would have thought. This version weakened the end scenes, when lives have supposedly been, and are being, staked on who ends up in charge. But in other ways this setting worked quite well. The use of mobile phones and text messaging to replace most of the usual letters was very well done. The initial scene with the daughters being asked to vie for their father’s love used video conferencing to good effect. Cordelia has obviously been sent to run the business interests overseas, and so has lost touch with her roots; she finds it difficult to speak what she feels, as Chinese is no longer her first language, and her cultural understanding has changed too. We can readily accept in our society the idea of older, Asian cultures having a strong paternalism that’s no longer so prevalent here. And family business empires are often run by Alpha+ males, who expect everyone else to obey without question, while perhaps having a few quirks of personality that can seem out of place in an otherwise rational person. So all that fitted, and Cordelia’s obvious separation from her family comes across loud and clear. The marriage proposals had to be ditched, but that’s a minor price to pay.

With so few actors there was a lot of doubling as well, even with the cuts. Only Zhou Yemang stuck to the one role, Lear. I found it confusing at first, especially when David Yip came on in one scene, having previously been Gloucester, now playing Albany. I realised eventually that there were subtle changes of costume, but it took me a while to adjust. Overall, it worked reasonably well.

One excellent idea was to have the fool expressed as Lear’s inner thoughts, adding to the sense that he’s cracking up. The rest of the cast, wearing uniform robes, stood round him speaking some of the fool’s lines, while Lear reacted much more emotionally to what he was hearing. I liked this interpretation a lot. In fact, I found Zhou Yemang’s portrayal both restrained and moving – he conveyed a sense of the barriers this man has erected around himself, and the tremendous upheaval he’s going through very well, especially considering the language difference.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Arsenic And Old Lace – November 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Joseph Kesselring

Directed by Robin Herford

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 22nd November 2006

          This was a very entertaining evening. The play is a marvellous comedy, and this production brought out a lot of the humour. The two old ladies, played by Louise Jameson and Sherrie Hewson, were excellent – I particularly liked Sherrie Hewson as Aunt Martha giving a little shiver of excitement when a new prospect turned up. Ian Targett as Mortimer Brewster handled all the double takes and the emotional rollercoaster very well, which set off the aunts’ dottiness perfectly.

I’d forgotten just how many twists the plot has, with dead bodies being bundled hither and thither, and lots of tables being turned. It’s great fun to see the scene setting at the start, with these two delightful old ladies in their peaceful house, knowing what’s really going on, and one of my favourite parts is when Jonathan realises his dotty old aunts have matched him in murder! Priceless.

Wayne Sleep was also very good as Dr Einstein, and the rest of the cast gave excellent support. We had an understudy for Elaine Harper tonight, and although I couldn’t hear her very well in the first scene, she’d sharpened up her delivery after that (possibly someone let her know she wasn’t carrying enough?) and every word came across just fine. An excellent night out and the best thing I’ve seen at the Connaught for a while.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Marriage Of Figaro – November 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Beaumarchais, translated/adapted by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by Jatinder Verma

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 20th November 2006

This was a novel experience. The original play by Beaumarchais has been turned into an Indian extravaganza, complete with music. It ends up looking much more like a Brian Rix farce set in India (this is not a criticism). It took a while to get used to the characters dancing on and dancing off, as well as occasional bursts of dancing in the middle, but it was good fun, and the Indian hierarchy seemed to work just as well as the old European one.

The set was relatively simple – two walls at an angle to the front of the stage, with four or five doors. The musician sat to one side, playing a variety of instruments, mostly drums, I think, but the music blended in so well I can pay it the compliment of saying I didn’t notice it too often. There were only five actors, and more parts than that, so some characters were played with masks, allowing any spare actor to represent them. One of the masks seemed to be an ear, another a nose, etc. This mostly worked very well, but in a few scenes, actors had to slip away and leave their mask to be held by another character, so I might have preferred one or two more actors in the cast, just to make it easier on everyone, including the audience.

The plot came thick and fast. In fact, about the only criticism I have of the performances was that some of the dialogue went like the clappers, and what with trying to pick up on the different cultural references, I found it hard to follow at times. But I did get the gist (after all, I have seen the opera), and some of it was hilarious. References like “the rupee’s dropped, at last!”, and “pardon my Hindi”, after a brief bit of swearing, went down very well. It was a shame the audience wasn’t as full as usual, and the sheer volume of plot permutations did get a little trying at times. But this was a good fun production, very well performed, and deserves a lot of success.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

A Number – November 2006

Experience: 8/10

By Caryl Churchill

Directed by Jonathan Munby

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Friday 17th November 2006

This play deals with the subject of cloning – a wonderfully open area for speculation and exploration, as yet largely untouched by dramatists. (I suspect sci-fi writers have already had a field day.) A father is confronted by three versions of his son – the ideal one, the original, flawed version, and another copy who’d been brought up without knowing his origins. The mother had died in an accident, and the original son had suffered from the loss of his mother, or from his father’s subsequent behaviour, or more likely from both – the father treats his son abominably, leaving him alone for hours on end, presumably beating him badly, and the like. Then the father decides to try and get his original “sweet” son back, to replace the monster he’s now got. So he opts for cloning, and gets back a lovely little baby, who turns out to be a “good” son. The other has been shuffled off into care. Unfortunately, the people doing the experiment, either for scientific research, or because they have to have some spares in case some don’t take, produce around twenty clones of the original, all of them still living. It’s this revelation that the “good” son brings to his father at the start, and the whole story unravels from there.

This production was immeasurably helped by the casting – Timothy West as the father and Sam West as the son. It did make one change of emphasis – when the son asks the father “Are you my father?”, we know the answer – it’s staring us in the face. With other casting, it might be possible to leave even more doubt in the audience’s mind about the relationships going on here. But this is not a complaint, merely an observation.

The set was minimal – a square floor, two chairs, lights that swept back and forth as if “scanning” the characters, and a vast array of test tubes hanging from the ceiling like a modern light fitting. This play is so tightly scripted, that we really don’t want anything too fussy to take attention away from the dialogue. And the performances tonight were excellent. There’s a lot of half-sentences, words tailing off into nothing, that say more than the words could do, and all of this was meat and drink to two such skilled actors. It took me a moment or two to tune in to the accents, but then I found the play almost Pinterish in its intensity and compactness. Not a word is wasted. The three sons are easy to distinguish, and the unfolding relationships are very compelling to watch. It’s a short play – only 50 minutes long – but it packs a lot into a small space. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We did have one distraction the night we went. A lady in a wheelchair was taken ill towards the end, and several people were helping her – it looked like a doctor came down from the side seating to help out. She was taken out, and an ambulance was arriving just as we were leaving the theatre. I hope she was OK. Although it was visible to at least one of the actors, they carried on superbly, and we were able to keep our focus mostly on the play. There was also an appeal at the end for an actors’ charity, so buckets were to the fore on the way out.

I did miss some of the dialogue at times, which is the problem with theatre in the round – they’d put seats at the back of the stage as well this time, so the actors had to keep moving. Overall, though, it was a really good piece of theatre, and raises some interesting questions.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Richard II – November 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Claus Peymann

Company: Berliner Ensemble

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Thursday 16th November 2006

This was an interesting experience. Apart from the Othello adaptation at the start of the Complete Works Festival, I haven’t seen much German theatre before, possibly none, so this was a first for me. (I’ve seen Cabaret, but that doesn’t really count.) I found much of it a bit dull, but I did learn a lot, and there were some lovely pieces of action, so all in all, it was quite good fun.

It was done in German, with surtitles, which were mostly in Shakespeare’s own words. It was heavily edited, and had one of the most intriguing bits of doubling I’ve ever seen. More of that later.

The set – the Courtyard was converted into a white box, with lots of panels to make windows and doors as needed, and two gaping holes either side. The walls sloped in towards the back, and white lines painted on the floor gave an exaggerated perspective. The rear panel lifted up (rather slowly – some of the scene changes were painfully slow, although we were entertained by lots of banging and clunking noises in the meantime), and revealed a contracted snooker table also with exaggerated perspective, mostly hidden behind a pillar. The pillar had two ledges on the front, which acted as seats and also the throne. At other times, the pillar and table were taken away to leave a large open space behind the walls, bare apart from two tiny ships, cut-outs, presumably, which were sailing along the back wall, except that one of them was sinking. Were we supposed to make anything of them, I wonder? Nothing was said, no reference was made to them that I caught. The other item on the stage at the start was a dead dummy, which I took to be the murdered Duke of Gloucester, the trigger for the action in the play. The same dummy reappears at the end, this time representing dead Richard, a nice touch.

I tried to avoid reading the surtitles, as I knew the play fairly well, but I wasn’t getting much from the performances at first, so I gave in and read them as often as I wanted to. It was a good choice. Even so, parts of the first half dragged a bit for me. It took me some time to get used to the performance style. The costumes were modern, with a 30’s influence and some surreal touches – one character had what seemed to be a black codpiece strapped over the front of his trousers. The actors were mostly whited up, not too solidly, and there was a black line on Bolingbroke’s face, from one ear, across the jaw and over the other ear, presumably a minimalist beard. Another actor had very red ears – I’m assuming it was make-up! Movements and expressions tended to be either very restrained or totally over the top. Together with the white faces and the blank set, this gave the whole production a surreal, clownish air. I certainly didn’t connect very deeply with any of the characters at this stage.

The gauntlet-throwing scene was the first bit I really enjoyed. The gloves had been stiffened and weighted, with darts inserted through the fingers, so they could be flung down (fairly carefully!) and would stick upright in the floor. Very effective. The second gauntlet-throwing scene was even better. It used the same gloves, but with many more challenges the floor fairly bristled with them. Very funny.

Veit Schubert’s interpretation of Bolingbroke took a bit of getting used to. I’m not sure I liked it though it was interesting to see how he developed the character through the play. He came across more as a buffoon – very nervous and diffident at first in front of the King, flaring up into temper during the accusations, but quickly abashed when the King intervenes. I wasn’t sure how this would work out further on, but he managed to get some menace and authority into the characterisation.

Richard first appears playing snooker (or billiards) with his disreputable mates. He’s a slightly sunken figure, suggesting dissipation and a wasted life. The casual way he ‘remembers’ to put on the crown – gosh, almost forgot he’s king – got a laugh, and there was a lot to like in this performance, particularly in the abdication scene. The Queen doesn’t have much to do in these early scenes, but she makes the most of the later ones – be patient.

John  of Gaunt’s dying speech didn’t particularly move, nor did I find Richard’s “why, uncle, what’s the matter” as funny as I have seen it before. But Richard’s ruthlessness comes across well, and sows the seeds of his downfall. Bolingbroke, returning from exile to claim his lands, will find plenty of supporters in England.

The Queen’s histrionics over her husband’s departure for Ireland, to crush the rebels, were so OTT as to be laughable. But she was also sowing seeds (funny how this play brings out so many gardening metaphors!) for later reaping. One of Richard’s supporters (don’t know which – there’s supposed to be two of them in this scene – we only get one) tries to comfort her, but she collapses with grief. There’s a working tap strategically located on the left stage wall, and he uses it to get water to wake her up, which it does. But this woman is a serial fainter. After another collapse or two, the pattern is set, and little do we know how often she’s going to hit the deck before the end!

Bolingbroke’s meeting with his last remaining uncle, the Duke of York, had a few entertaining moments. The Duke seemed to be more intent on carrying out his duty to defend England and arrest Bolingbroke than I’ve seen before – he was having a real strop! – and was induced to support Bolingbroke more because his forces were too weak to oppose him than by sympathy for his cause. However, they soon make up, and the Duke invites them into his house, which appears miraculously at the edge of the set, peeping from behind the right wall, about a foot high and with lights showing at the tiny windows and door. Ran out of budget? Mind you, it was cute.

The killing of Bushy and Green didn’t do much for me, nor was I all that taken with Richard’s return to England, though I did like the parallel between Bolingbroke kissing the earth of his native land when he leaves and when he returns, and Richard patting the earth with his hands. Earth has always featured strongly in this play – and this production gives it full prominence.

OK, so Richard goes through his ups and downs – first he’s got lots of troops, then there are none, despair, hope, despair, etc. Then Bolingbroke turns up and does the swiftest capture of the King I’ve ever seen. So far, I hadn’t felt particularly engaged with this production. In fact, I had just asked Steve (in a whisper, of course) the rhetorical question ‘There is going to be an interval, isn’t there?’ when the whole thing changed, and the fun began. The herald of this transformation was a nun. A dancing nun. I kid you not. She pranced onto the stage in a seriously lively manner, flinging flower-darts at the floor with gay abandon. (She actually caught the Queen’s dress in one and had to redo it.) This nun then tries to do the impossible – cheer up her companion, the miserable serial fainter. Tough proposition. But this nun’s almost up to the task. She offers dancing, singing and telling stories as possible entertainments, but the Queen’s having none of it (although we do get a bit of singing). Her demonstration for the dancing suggestion consisted of some funky moves that wouldn’t have been out of place in a modern nightclub. Even though the Queen wasn’t joining in, the nun boogied for as long as she could. The amazing dancing nun. I don’t often get to see such a thing, and my mood improved massively.

Then the real mud-slinging started. A lower panel had been removed, and someone was trying to get a wheelbarrow through the gap. They failed. Umpteen times. The wheelbarrow kept banging against the wall. Of course, it was all deliberate, and eventually the gardener got through, brought the wheelbarrow over to the centre of the stage, and tipped out the earth it carried onto the stage. Several handfuls of dirt had already fallen out with all the banging, so the place looked a right mess by this time. Second gardener comes on, with a hose, connects it to the tap, and turns it on. Water shoots across the stage. The Queen and the nun are already lurking out of harm’s way, but the other gardener is in for a soaking, as is the mound of earth. As the water soaks into it, and runs all over the stage, the first gardener mixes it up, creating a nice splodgy mess. When they’ve got it good and mushy, they put it round the flowers previously planted by the nun.

All this while, the gardeners have been discussing the regime change (yes, the play does actually go on while all this is happening), and the Queen gets upset. And we know what happens when this Queen gets upset, don’t we? She rushes over to tell the gardeners off. Now I thought she’d do her best to keep her lovely white frock clean, but no. First off, she grabs the end of the gardener’s spade and starts shaking it, so she’s already got her hands mucky, plus some dirt gets on her dress. But then the pressure escalates, and plop, down she goes, slap bang in the middle of what’s left of the mud heap. What fun! And how handy there’s a man with a hose ready to wake her up. Definitely not a production to see from the front row, unless you’re well water-proofed. We weren’t surprised that the interval came just after this scene.

We were surprised, though, to find they’d left all the mud on the stage for the second half. Not only that, they added more. As Richard and his queen tried to say their goodbyes, missiles of mud came flying diagonally across from behind the walls to crash against the far walls, making the whole stage look like a disastrous episode of Ground Force. The mud was put to good use, however, as Aumerle uses it to write “Richard forever” or some such on the back wall, just to show he’s about to become a traitor. The race to beg for Aumerle’s pardon/demand that he be executed, was so-so, while the abdication was suitably fraught with “will he, won’t he” tension, and the mirror scene was interesting, as for once Richard holds the mirror up so we in the audience can see his reflection as well. Given what’s gone on before, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the mirror too gets smashed on the floor, but I was. Even more mess to clean up. I also recognised some of the lines as echoing Helen of Troy’s description as “the face that launched a thousand ships”.

Despite there being several “spare” actors who could have taken on the role of Exton, killer of the king, there was an interesting choice made in this production to use the Duke of York for this job. Very interesting choice, emphasising the Duke’s readiness to ingratiate himself with the new regime, and perhaps even the necessity to do this. As a result, the pre-death scenes for Richard have to be slightly curtailed, as he knows his assassin all too well, so we just get his musings on his life now, a bit of the music and his thanks to his jailer (no groom), and then it’s goodnight from him. Richard did come across quite well here, showing a degree of emotional and mental development from the early stages, and I found it quite moving, if a little brief.

The final scene has Henry IV washing the mud off the walls with the hose. With each wall, the Duke of York brings on another computer printout with news of more traitors’ deaths. Henry looks less than happy to be interrupted, and drapes these printouts over the back of his throne. At the end, the Duke announces the delivery of Richard’s dead body (the dummy), and is inevitably banished by the king. One important cut here – I was glancing at the surtitles, and noticed that the part line “love him murdered” was omitted. The implication for me was that Henry really didn’t mind Richard’s murder, but had to make a show of remorse for public consumption. Very interesting choice.

Although I didn’t enjoy this as much as some other productions I’ve seen, I have to admit it was a well-thought out version of the play, bringing out some interesting connections and patterns, and placing much more emphasis on the political aspects. Warfare at home and abroad, regime change, despotic leaders, failed assassination attempts, fearing to express opposition, bumping off political rivals, connections with the land – perhaps there’s something in recent German history that makes these things resonate today?

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Taming Of The Shrew – November 2006

Experience: 2/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Edward Hall

Company: Propeller

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Thursday 9th november 2006

This was the kind of production that gives The Taming of the Shrew a bad name. Being an all-male company, they’d come up with not only a masculine version of this play, but a very macho view of it. It felt like a double abuse – not only is this Kate beaten and starved into submission, but the lack of any female perspective added to the unpleasantness. Can these men only see violence and abuse in this play? Plus, having a man playing Kate probably allowed for more physical fighting, perhaps led them into it more, as if words of violence in the text must translate into violent action on the stage.

It’s not all bad, though. There were some good aspects to this production. This multi-talented crew showed off an amazing array of skills, especially with the music, which was always very good. Best of all was the guitar double for Hortensio. Other notable areas were also on display – the bare-arsed cheek of Petruchio and Grumio at the wedding probably pleased a number in the audience, and not just the women! The long queue of people bursting through the door at Baptista’s house when Petruchio first comes to woo was good fun, and the use of moveable wardrobes/doors etc. worked pretty well on the whole to create a sense of location fairly rapidly. Of all the performances, I probably enjoyed Bianca’s the most, although I felt her reactions during Kate’s final speech were a bit strange, and her character didn’t change quite as much as some portrayals I’ve seen. I also liked the way we were given an ‘order of service’ for the marriage before the start, although mixing the Christopher Sly and Kate Minola characters didn’t work out in the play itself. Otherwise, I found the lines very well delivered, and liked the multi-coloured chandelier very much (not usually a healthy sign, if chandeliers feature in the list of good points).

However, none of the characters were well defined, and the laughs mainly came from funny business rather than the text. There were some scenes which I felt were over-staged, and could have been trimmed down to better effect, and with all the clutter, I found I wasn’t so clear about who was in which household. I had to stop and think when the real Vincentio turns up to remember which characters are going to be in trouble when he spots them. Given that I know the play fairly well, how did newcomers fare?

This was a very dark reading of the play, which is fine, but it lost so much of the play’s natural humour, replacing it with made up stuff (some of which was quite good admittedly) so that I found the second half much less enjoyable than the first. Some of the fight choreography seemed pretty pointless, or perhaps it just wasn’t executed properly this time round. If I had written this in the interval, I would have given the performance three stars; sadly the second half knocked it back a bit.

Kate never really got going. Initially, she was more of a troublesome teenager, a refugee from one of those reality parenting programs, rather than a seriously troubled woman who needs tough love to awaken her sense of humour and allow her to function effectively in society. Let’s face it, she’s a real bitch at the start, and it’s not surprising her father’s washed his hands of her. He’s nothing to write home about either, though, selling his second, ‘much-loved’ daughter off to the highest bidder, and never mind what she thinks about it. Still, this production undermined so much of the good stuff in the play, that I just couldn’t enjoy it fully. Better luck next time.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – November 2006

Experience: 8/10

By Tennessee Williams

Directed by Richard Baron

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 8th November 2006

I didn’t remember much of the previous production I saw, so this was a very interesting one to see. The bulk of the first act is down to Maggie, the cat of the title, all jumpy because her husband hasn’t given her a child yet, and she sees her comfortable life slipping away if Big Daddy leaves his estate to the well-offspringed brother-in-law. For a women who has clawed her way up from close to the gutter, it’s not an appealing prospect. Her husband, Brick, doesn’t have a lot to say for himself in this act, but he makes up for it later on. All the performances were good. I didn’t notice much slippage in the accent department, although I’m no expert, and the reading of the play worked well for me. I could see who the characters were loud and clear, and the production was balanced enough not to take sides – just as well, since few of the characters get anywhere near likeable. It says a great deal for Tennessee Williams’ skill as a playwright that it can be so fascinating to sit and watch so many unpleasant people for nearly three hours.

The revelations over the next two acts were unsurprising, but the presentation made them very watchable. I was especially moved by Big Daddy’s stories of his time abroad, and the abject poverty he witnessed. Brick’s despair and grief were obvious, and I liked the nice tussle between him and Maggie over the pillow. He kept putting it on the couch where he’d been sleeping since his friend died, and she kept returning it to the bed, where she wanted him to be. God knows what any child born into that family would have to put up with (now there’s and idea for a sequel). It’s a shame this wasn’t better attended, but fortunately there were lots of younger people there who may have got an insight into more powerful drama than we usually get on stage, and even on TV.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Little Women – November 2006

Experience: 5/10

By Louisa M Alcott, adapted by Ali Gorton

Directed by Ali Gorton

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 7th November 2006

This was a good adaptation, and a reasonable production, marred only by poor delivery from many of the cast, more used to TV work than theatre.

I liked that the adaptation only covered the first of the books, Good Women, from Christmas to Christmas, and although they still couldn’t include everything, we got enough of a sense of the events they went through and how they were affected, though it wasn’t as good as reading the book, obviously. There were some cumbersome scene changes, but then the set had to cater for quite a few locations, mainly the Marches living room, but also Mr Laurence’s study, a ballroom, and the garden.

The performances were good, too, apart from the delivery. The various characters came across very well, especially Amy, and some scenes came across more clearly than I remembered from the book – like the problem with Meg and Jo sharing gloves. Overall it worked very well, and I felt this was one of the better adaptations this company has done.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at