Don Juan In Soho – December 2006

Experience: 10/10

By Patrick Marber, based on Moliere

Directed by Michael Grandage

Venue: Donmar Warehouse

Date: Thursday 28th December 2006

This was a cracking good reworking of the Don Juan story, set in contemporary London. Don Juan (DJ) is the son of an Earl, spending his life screwing, snorting and generally having a good time. His personal assistant, Stan, disapproves of this lifestyle, but is unable to leave him to his sins. Eventually, it all goes horribly wrong, and the world becomes a quieter, if not necessarily a better, place.

First off, I have to say that I am not used to being asked directly by a character in a play if I am “fuckable”. That is my only excuse for just shrugging helplessly (of course I’m fuckable!) and grinning a lot. But that’s what you risk being asked at this sort of play in a studio space when you’re only inches away from the action. Be warned. This happened early on, triggered by a discussion on whether or not Stan should enter DJ’s latest conquest on his database. DJ’s point of view was that it’s pointless to classify people, although he did come up with the “fuckable/non-fuckable” categories for good measure. Stan is apparently non-fuckable.

The story was pretty much as usual, but with very modern twists. DJ has been shagging a Croatian model for the weekend, much to Stan’s surprise – DJ doesn’t usually go for Croatians. It’s also a surprise to DJ’s new wife, Elvira, who sends out her brothers to find her husband when he disappears shortly after their return from honeymoon “to buy a packet of fags.” She’s a real goody-two-shoes. DJ had to pursue her through all sorts of right-on places – refugee camps, protest sites, etc. Naturally she thinks he loved her, while he just regards her as a challenge. Unfortunately, he’s awakened her sexually, and she’s not prepared to give up on him just yet.

This all takes place in the hotel lobby, where Stan was waiting for his boss to appear. After a trip to the loo, DJ spots his next mark – the fiancée of a man he’s just met in the gents. The man is ecstatically happy that he’s about to be married, and he’s having a party on a riverboat that evening, so DJ decides to crash the party, literally, as it happens. He drives his speedboat straight at the party boat, causing all sorts of mayhem, and the next scene is set in the hospital waiting area, where Stan and Pete – an innocent bystander who pulled DJ and Stan out of the water – are shivering in their blankets. DJ’s being seen by the doctor – Earls get treated first in the NHS.

Pete’s girlfriend turns up with some dry clothes. It’s a lovely turn by Seroca Davis – all bitching and complaining and wanting reward money for Pete’s good deed, until DJ himself turns up and seduces her so rampantly that she ends up giving him a blow job under cover of a blanket while DJ attempts to chat up the posh bird he was after in the first place! The posh bird actually turns him down, although he is hampered by the woman attached to his appendage, and the need to moan occasionally. Once done, he’s off.

Next we see him in the park. There’s a statue there, as one might expect, and thanks to all the street performers there are nowadays, they didn’t have to resort to trickery to get the statue to move. Tim Eagle took the part here, and I really didn’t see him move before his invitation from DJ. (Maybe they could get a female living statue to do Hermione some time?) Before this, DJ tempts a devout man to deny his God by offering him his expensive watch as a gift. The man is seriously poor, but still he holds firm, and so DJ rewards him with the watch anyway. To bring it up-to-date, the man is a Muslim.

This is the point where we see the best side of DJ. He spots a man being attacked, and goes to help him. The man turns out to be none other than one of his brothers-in-law, Colm, while the other brother, vicious Aloysius, isn’t far behind. Given that DJ has saved him from a bad beating or even death, there’s a stand-off for the time being. Then comes the rash invitation to the statue, which leads to the usual warning about mending his behaviour.

Following the statue’s warning, DJ returns to his flat? house? and proceeds to entertain two lovely ladies of the professional persuasion. His father arrives, having driven all night, to tell him to get back with his wife, and turns out to be quite a sweetie. Bit traditional, of course, but that’s what parents are for. The wife also turns up, to get her clothes, but ends up leaving in disgust, as she realises he’s got the two prostitutes in the house. Once she’s left, the two girls, sent to wait for DJ in the bedroom, also run out of the house, screaming – they’ve seen the statue and they don’t need telling it’s a bad sign – smart girls. DJ may be rattled, but he’s reluctant to give in.

After a long sleep, he meets Stan and his father at the father’s club, and makes a good stab at playing the penitent. A very good stab. His father goes off, much relieved, leaving DJ to inform Stan, and us, that it was all a performance, and that he intends to go on as before. He sets off for Soho (he’s told us earlier that “soho” was a hunting cry, and that the area was originally used for hunting) but the rickshaw he gets on is being driven by the statue, and it all goes a bit surreal. Eventually he’s left in a dark, empty place, with no one for company but the two brothers-in-law who are intent on his murder. They stab him, and it’s all over, bar Stan finding the body.

This was a great version of the story. It not only covered the usual plot well, the translation into the modern idiom and contemporary setting was excellent. Rhys Ifans was superb as DJ, totally suave and louche, with no concerns about his behaviour, apart from a bit of fear when the statue came to life. All the performances were excellent, and it’s not surprising the run was almost sold out. A great way to end the year’s playgoing.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Lightning Play – December 2006

Experience: 8/10

By Charlotte Jones

Directed by Anna Mackmin

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 16th December 2006

I was hooked almost immediately by this play. It starts with Max (Matthew Marsh) entering a plush modern minimalist room with lots of remote controls in his hands. He puts them down, and then tries to find out which one will switch on his brand new 65” TV. Naturally, he can’t do it. The bloody thing refuses to work, despite his best efforts, and with much complaining and swearing on his part. It doesn’t sound like much written down, but for folk like us with five or six remote controls beside us on the sofa, it was hilarious.

The set was one of the biggest I’ve seen at the Almeida. It was one room, wide and spacious, with a few tables and a sideboard at the walls either side. A sofa and two recliner chairs faced each other across the middle of the room, a massive rug (false perspective) lay on the floor, and a huge TV screen hung on the back wall, with the necessary machines underneath. Behind the screen we could see a wood-effect recess, and on either side of the screen were the doors. Simple and very effective.

Max is a ghost writer, who produces “autobiographies” for D-list celebs. His wife, Harriet (Eleanor David), seems to spend her time shopping with his money and making their home a palace of beauty. His childhood friend Eddie (Lloyd Hutchinson) mooches about, apparently always at their house, helping Max research by watching videos and drinking beer with him.

Max has been induced to invite Imogen (Katherine Parkinson), an old school friend of their travelling daughter, round for drinks. She’s heavily pregnant, just about ready to drop, and her husband Marcus Cumberbatch (Orlando Seale) comes along too. Eddie brings along a new girlfriend, Jacklyn (Adie Allen), who picked him up that day during a ramble. She’s the nervous New Age sort. We also see, in flashback, Burak (Simon Kassianides), the man who sold Harriet the rug (after they had sex on it), and Tabby Morris (Christina Cole), the 20-something glamour model whose autobiography Max is hoping to write.

It’s Halloween as well, and there are lots of strange things going on. We keep hearing about Max and Harriet’s daughter, Anna, who’s inIsraelprotesting human rights abuses by standing in front of tanks and the like. It’s pretty obvious there’s some reason why she’s both avoiding her parents and fighting for others, and we find this out by the end of the play. It’s because of Anna that Imogen invited herself round – she’s had an email from her, and wanted to tell her parents about it. Imogen had been round at their place a lot during her schooldays, a bit like Eddie now, although neither Max nor Harriet really cared for her.

The other strange occurrence is the pictures that keep coming up on the massive screen – it’s not TV programs, it’s like a family video, showing a young girl, maybe 10 years old, running through a wood, and clambering through trees. She looks scared, mostly, and we naturally assume this is Anna when she was younger. The pictures and sounds affect Max terribly – in fact, he’s the only one seeing them. They crop up every time the doorbell rings – kids trick or treating. When everyone’s there, we find out what all the connections are, who rescued who from a suicide attempt, and what really happened in the forest so many years ago. It wasn’t so much a twist, as uncovering something hidden, not mentioned or referenced at all during the play, as far as I could tell. The play ends with Harriet going off to see Anna in Israel, and Max and Eddie settling down to watch videos and drink beer, while the set opens up to reveal the real significance of the wooden recess.

This was a really well-crafted play. The characters were believable and mostly irritating – you wouldn’t want to spend time with them. The humour was excellent. While complaining to Eddie about the recalcitrance of the incredibly expensive TV, Max comments “This thing should be on its knees, tugging at my zip.” The performances were all brilliant – we really get to know these people and what makes them tick. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would happily see this again.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Pericles – December 2006

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th December 2006

This was a very entertaining evening. I may have found it better than The Winter’s Tale because I was more used to the changes in the Swan, which has, after all, been my favouritest theatre in the world, but then again, this production used the space quite differently, and we were sitting across from our previous seats, and had a much better view of all the action. In fact we only really missed the wedding between Pericles and Thaisa. All the rest was either clearly visible, or, even better, right in front of us, on the sloping ramp.

The costumes were a mix of African traditional with natural geometric patterns and earthy colours, and modern. Cerimon was initially dressed like a hippy earth mother, and the suitors for Thaisa wore fetching outfits, all matched, of blue tops and tight white shorts. (Is it just me, or is it warm in here?) The starving folk in Tarsus were suffering a fashion breakdown, as all (except the king and queen, of course) were swathed in grubby cotton sacking. Overall, it was a wonderful combination of colours and styles which worked effectively to accentuate Pericles’ travels, the diversity of cultures he visits, and the dangers he faces – the opening sequence has guards toting automatic rifles forcing the peripatetic audience members into place to hear Pericles face Antiochus’ challenge.

That Antiochus is a right bastard. Not only does he seduce his daughter into an incestuous relationship, but he’s so determined to keep her, he’s willing to chop off the head of any young man who dares to sue for her hand. In theory, of course, the guy just has to decipher the riddle to gain her, but there’s no way Antiochus is going to let anyone live who figures out what he’s been up to with his daughter. So either way, they’re for the chop. I did like the way the man standing behind Pericles on the dais started sharpening his knife as soon as Pericles accepted the challenge.

Pericles’ trip home and thence to Tarsus went very smoothly. I liked the way Cleon, King of Tarsus, is worried at first that his country is being invaded. We could hear the sound of helicopters overhead, suggestive of both rescue and invasion. Despite the relief effort, at least one starving citizen didn’t make it.

Then Pericles is off again, and, wrecked at sea, is cast up on the shores of Pentapolis. I enjoyed this bit, when the sailors/fishermen find him, and then rescue his armour. The chap who found it was clearly none too happy that Pericles claimed it back, and in the end this staging didn’t make use of the shield, but I suppose that scene is showing Pericles’ luck and/or air of authority. It’s also when he finds out about the availability of Thaisa, the King’s daughter, and decides to become one of her suitors.

The competition among Thaisa’s suitors was the best I’ve seen. At first, the scene is set for Thaisa’s birthday celebration, and the suitors are shown, in the box, bringing her gifts (not in the text, this bit). There’s a couple of bags, one large, one small, a cuddly toy, and a box. When the flashiest one comes along, he seems to have nothing to give her, but at the last minute produces a conspicuous set of car keys – just showing off, if you ask me! Then Pericles arrives, the final suitor, with nothing more than a single rose. At this point, Thaisa doesn’t really pay him much attention – he’s more of a puzzle than anything else.

Next comes the competition, and instead of sword play, we’re treated to a modern pentathlon – shooting, fencing (alright, we got a bit of sword play), swimming, riding, and running. One contestant was dropped after each round. For the first event they lined up on one of the walkways, and shot across to the other. One of the contestants managed to fell a stray bird, feathers floating down to make the point, and Pericles had to borrow (or grab) the gun from the chap standing next to him, as he obviously didn’t have one of his own. Bird shooter was eliminated, and the rest went down to the ground level for the fencing. By the way, Nigel Cooke, dressed like a cook from what I could see, was running a book on the outcome – I know the RSC needs money for the redevelopment, but really! Anyway, with five competitors left, the first four paired up, and when one was beaten, Pericles stepped in to fight the winner. Needless to say, he gets through to the final, and also wins that. Our hero is doing well. Then it’s off to the box for the swimming. A blue sheet is held up, and wiggled about a bit, while the remaining suitors swim two lengths of the box. Another one out, and we’re down to three. On the walkway leading to the ramp, the three eliminatees are sitting with drums, and the three still in it come along in riding hats, and with whips, and sort of mount them (it’s not as bad as it sounds). Then they have a race, with pauses for the jumps, and the sound of the drumming for the hooves. A finishing post is trundled into view towards the end, so we know who’s won. Another one bites the dust, and then it’s just Pericles and the flash git in the final sprint, up the ramp just in front of us. Despite his chubby appearance, and being against a lean, tall, muscular sort of chap, Pericles actually manages to win this one as well – hooray! I was so caught up in the story-telling, that frankly, I didn’t mind this a bit – it was just good fun.

Following the events, there was some sulking as Simonides made a speech congratulating them all, and some clenched teeth were visible through the smiles. But it’s all still to play for, as the competition wasn’t to determine Thaisa’s husband, it was just a bit of fun, a way to pass the time. However, at the banquet later, Thaisa’s obviously very taken with the victorious stranger. She has an interesting relationship with her father, Simonides. They both clearly love each other, in a healthy way this time, but they will keep pretending the opposite of what they feel – in Simonides case, it’s often to test how his daughter really feels, and given the nature of their relationship, that’s quite understandable. In her case, it’s not so clear, unless she’s just picked up on Daddy’s way of doing things. Or perhaps she’s a bit shy of declaring her interest in Pericles outright. Anyway, she pretends indifference, and is secretly (if you can call it a secret when the whole audience knows) delighted when her father tells her to take a cup of wine to the champion of the games. Pericles is pretty taken with her, too, and they have a nice little dance sequence, with interesting suggestions of the two of them trying to blend their different cultures.

Simonides is also pretty keen on this match, because early the next morning, he sees off the other suitors, spinning a yarn about how his daughter wants a gap year before she marries. Off they go, some sobbing with disappointment, and leave the field clear for Pericles. Simonides has had a letter from his daughter expressing her feelings for the man, and he confronts Pericles with it, pretending to be angry. Pericles is thrown into confusion. The last time he was presented with a piece of paper was in Antioch, and he only just escaped with his life. He responds that he hasn’t done anything to encourage Thaisa, and she arrives to be confronted by her pseudo-angry father and …. well, it all ends happily, as Simonides can’t keep up the pretence for long, and before you know it, the happy couple are man and wife.

The audience participation included invitations to the wedding feast, which I thought was a nice touch – go to a play, join in the wedding breakfast. Gower, the narrator, informs us of time passing, and of Pericles receiving news that he has to return to Tyre or risk losing his crown, so without more ado they head off to sea, Thaisa much pregnant. A storm comes up, and here the people at the table start to sway and throw themselves about as if on a storm-tossed ship – a nice segue. Thaisa is helped to the box, and behind a curtain she produces her baby daughter, and then breathes her last …. or does she? Pericles is distraught, and it isn’t helped by the superstitious sailors wanting to chuck Thaisa’s body overboard asap. Fortunately, they have a fully water-proofed coffin standing by (they were obviously boy scouts or whatever the ancient equivalent was – always prepared), and so off she floats, with a covering letter explaining the situation and asking for whoever finds the coffin to put her in a proper grave. Pericles then instructs the sailors to head for Tarsus, as it’s apparently nearer, and he plans to leave his daughter there for Cleon and his wife to bring her up. Given the circumstances of her birth, he names her Marina. Cleon and his wife are only too happy to help, having a daughter of a similar age themselves (regular viewers of Will’s work will be suspicious on hearing this news).

One point to mention on the staging. At the time Thaisa is in the box giving birth, the same actress who played Antiochus’ daughter is spotlit, standing on the ramp to our right, watching the proceedings. I wasn’t sure what this meant at first – was this Antiochus’ daughter haunting Pericles, or taking on the shape of his daughter, or what? Actually, it was a neat bit of doubling, which would have been even more effective if the risk of incest in the later scenes had been brought out. As it was, it made me pay attention, and introduced Marina to us before the break, as she’s all growed up afterwards.

The two scenes with Cerimon are run together here. Thaisa’s waking is well done, as she gives a huge start and cries out. Her last memory is of the childbirth, and she’s understandably confused as to how she got where she is. The one thing I feel needs more explanation in the text is why Thaisa assumes so quickly that she won’t see her husband again. But then we wouldn’t get that lovely last scene, of course, so never mind. Thaisa decides to be a nun at the temple of Diana, for she has landed in Ephesus.

Now we’re following Marina’s story more than Pericles. Growing up to be a beauty, with many talents and a wonderful personality, Queen Dionyza naturally takes a scunner to her overshadowing her own daughter – we knew there’d be problems! After bumping off Lychorida, Marina’s nurse, Dionyza suborns some chap, apparently her lover in this version, to do the same to Marina. Possibly fortunately, some pirates arrive at the exact moment to prevent this murder, and steal her away. The would-be murderer reckons he can get away with his failure, as Marina’s not likely to be seen again in those parts, but hangs around in case they throw her back and he has to do the job after all.

We, however, are off to Mitylene and the bawdy house. Pole dancers do their thing on the ramps, while sailors and others mill around the market place. The music is modern, the lights are flashing – all painting a picture of modern-day sleaze and corruption. No redeeming features to this den of iniquity.

Business appears to be bad. The box is where the bawd and her minions hang out – all 50s style, with a lovely air of seediness. They’re down to their last three whores, and they’re past their shag-by dates. Boult is sent off to the market to find fresh meat, and brings back Marina – a virgin. Hooray! She’ll make their fortunes. Or will she? We see two sailors leave the place, vowing never to enter such a house again – what can be going on? Then we see a man in a grubby raincoat, looking every inch the perv, and pretending to be blind, approaching the door. He’s obviously well known to the occupants, as the bawd informs us “Here comes the Lord Lysimachus, disguised”. Turns out he’s the governor of the place, and when he throws off his covering, they’re all suitably impressed at the way he fooled them all. Hanging the grubby coat on the back of the door, he enquires if there’s any fun to be had, or some such, and they offer him Marina, probably a last-ditch effort to get her to co-operate. He takes on the task with relish, and after a bit of small talk, the others leave the two of them together.

Marina’s clearly not happy with what she’s being asked to do, and as he undresses, taking off his tie and then his trousers, he asks her about her past, how she came to this line of work and so on. Her replies rebut his assumption that she’s a prostitute; as the bawd knows only too well, she’s yet to have intimate contact with anyone! She keeps turning his words against him – when he points out that she’s in a house of prostitutes, she asks if, knowing this, he would come here? She reminds him of his honour, that he is, to all outward appearance, an honourable man, and he ends up giving her money. And then more money. Then he dresses again, and heads off, throwing the grubby coat into the corner – the sign that he’s given up on paying for sex completely. The bawd is at her wits’ end when she finds out. Boult offers to give Marina  her induction course, so they leave him to it, but she manages to persuade him that they’ll be better off using her talents – singing, weaving, sewing and dancing – to earn money honestly. She gives him the money the governor gave her, and he agrees to help her as best he can.

Meanwhile, Cleon has found out that Marina is dead, and who killed her. He’s rather upset, but his wife persuades him to go along with her plan to say Marina died of natural causes, and to mourn her as if they cared. When Pericles finds out his daughter is dead, he’s so grief-stricken, he goes on a seriously long Mediterranean cruise, refusing to leave his cabin, to shave, etc. Eventually he arrives at Mitylene, where the governor comes aboard to enquire after his health (plus carry out customs checks, probably), and finds a man suffering from serious depression. Naturally he thinks immediately of the amazing girl he met at the bawdy house, who has since been wowing Mitylene society with her beauty and wisdom. Fortunately, she happens to be close by, and soon arrives to help the poor unshaven man on the ship. This is such a moving scene, and I found myself sniffling quite a bit during it. At first, Pericles doesn’t want to see or speak with Marina, and he rejects her physically when she tries to touch him. When he does look at her, he’s reminded of his own dear queen, and it’s here that many productions insert some physical attraction for her that echoes the earlier incestuous relationship between Antiochus and his daughter. But re-reading the lines confirms what this production has done – there is no actual reference to, not even a hint of, Pericles having lustful thoughts towards his daughter. Naturally, he’s overcome with emotion as she tells her story, and of course, she doesn’t know who he is at this point. I think that’s one of the difficult things with this scene – clearly establishing who knows what about whom. Anyway, there’s a touching reconciliation. Then the governor shoves his oar in, as he was only holding back from proposing to Marina because she wasn’t of a high enough status, but now he can ply his suit, and is accepted.

When Pericles takes some rest – it’s all been a bit much for him – he sees a vision of Diana, here doubled with Thaisa, who tells him to go and give thanks at her temple in Ephesus. There, Diana’s statue is led on by a group of nuns, among them Thaisa, and after Pericles’ speech of thanks, she recognises him and faints. It all comes out then, the family are reunited, lots of sniffles all round, and Gower finishes off by telling us how all the baddies get their just desserts, and all the goodies are rewarded. A happy ending.

I loved this production, and was totally happy that we’d booked to see it again at the Winter School. All the performances were good, and the whole production had a liveliness and joy of the storytelling that made it a delight to watch, and to listen to. Joseph Mydell was exceptionally good as Gower, as was Richard Moore as Simonides. But the whole ensemble were excellent, and I left with my spirits high, looking forward to another performance. We won’t often see such a good production as this.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Winter’s Tale – December 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th December 2006

This production sees the Swan boarded over to create a promenade space, with the seating being in the galleries only. It reminded me of the Roundhouse production, and given how much the RSC has taken on this year with the complete works, doing many productions themselves, it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to reuse several good productions of the recent past. After all, Michael Boyd has resuscitated his Henrys (seeing those in February).

There was a long, curved walkway spiralling down from the right gallery level to the ground by what would normally be the main entrance to the auditorium. All metal. There was a walkway across the left front of the gallery, the side we were sitting on this time. At the back, the balconies had been extended forward, to create a reasonable sized room for some of the scenes – Mamillius’s bedroom and  Leontes’ study. It was a bit small, though, and the actors had to keep out of each other’s way so characters could get in and out of the door. I know Leontes shuts himself away, but this is ridiculous! Otherwise, various pieces of furniture, platforms, etc., were brought on as needed.

At the start, there was an actor sitting on the walkway just to my right. He was dressed as a gardener and appeared to be working with a tray of seedlings. I had no idea who he was (he turned out to be Time, who delivers the introduction to the second half), but he blocked my view quite badly at the start, so that I lost much of the emotional aspects of the early stages, especially Leontes inciting Camillo to kill Polixinus. I also found I lost a lot of the dialogue – not sure how much was down to the more open nature of the performance space, and how much down to delivery. The more experienced actors were fine, on the whole, but some of the younger ones weren’t so punchy, and didn’t always inflect their speeches so well. There was music at the start which continued over the dialogue, and I found that got in the way a bit.

Autolycus was as scantily clad as I’ve seen in the Swan, excepting Tales from Ovid, but didn’t impress me (as a production choice, I mean). The sheep-shearing celebration seemed a bit tame – although the promenaders helped in terms of numbers, they were just standing around, and made the whole thing seem a bit dull. It was also a bit off-putting when it came to the more intimate scenes, such as Camillo advising Florizel and Perdita to flee to Sicilia. I still got emotional at the reunion scene.

All in all I felt the production didn’t suit the Swan space, the rearrangements made it difficult to see what was going on, and to hear clearly, and although it was a lively production with a lot of good performances (Nigel Cooke and Anton Lesser particularly) it just didn’t sparkle for me.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Merry Wives The Musical – December 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare, adapted by Gregory Doran. Music by Paul Englishby. Lyrics by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by Gregory Doran (does the man ever sleep?)

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 13th December 2006

This was great fun. I tried not to have too high expectations, but it was difficult. The cast was to drool over, Merry Wives can be such fun, and it has the added frisson that this is one of the last two productions we’ll see here before the main house closes for redevelopment. All in all, a mouth-watering, highly charged prospect.

This adaptation and production didn’t disappoint. There’s definitely room for improvement, but it’s off to a good start. We chose to see the winter plays now, and again as part of the Winter School, and we’re already looking forward to seeing this one again. I suspect it will come on for the extra three weeks or so.

The set was lovely. It’s definitely an Elizabethan setting, all gables and oak beams. There are two houses on either side of the stage at the beginning. Chez Page is to our left, while the one opposite may be the Ford’s, though that’s not clear. To make this stage Windsor look more populated, there are false perspective houses towards the back. I was thinking that the actors would have to be careful not to get too close to them, and then a few scenes later, Mistress Quickly (Judi Dench) came on from the back. She did a lovely double take over the size of the buildings compared to her – very entertaining. Just about every part of the set moved to create the other locations; the interior of Ford’s house, the tavern, and the forest. The forest was basically the remaining wooden uprights when the rest of the set had been taken away – a nice, simple way to evoke a wood. Costumes were by Elizabethan out of the 1950’s – an interesting mixture of doublet, hose, and billowing skirts with layered petticoats. It all looked gorgeous.

Performances – all very good. Some quibbles. Judi Dench didn’t entirely convince as Mistress Quickly – a bit too intelligent. But her performance was good, especially the interaction with the houses. Simon Callow as Falstaff was excellent. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t worked here before. He made a great deal of the Shakespearean lines especially, which brought out how entertaining his character can be to others. And his comments on other people’s use of the English language were quite reasonable, given his command of it. Alistair McGowan’s performance as Ford is shaping up very nicely. I would like to see him do more with Brooke, though. Given the range he’s capable of, I would prefer to see more differentiation of the two “characters”, and more of the jealous reaction to Falstaff’s stories. But maybe this wouldn’t fit in with the overall feel of the piece. Haydn Gwynne and Alexandra Gilbreath were fine as the two wives, and took full advantage of the operatic (and even melodramatic) aspects of their roles. Simon Trinder – best Slender I’ve seen, helped by an extra drinking song to open the second half. Paul Chahidi was OK as Dr Cauis – didn’t always get his mangling of English, though. Brendan O’Hea was the best Pistol I’ve seen. Dressed like Russell Brand on a bad hair day, his part came across clearly, and his wooing of Mistress Quickly (they pinched bits from Henry IV part 2 to pad out the story) was great fun.

The music and lyrics were fine, though again I didn’t get all of them. We bought the CD afterwards, so we’ll probably be listening to it a bit before the second viewing. The best songs were the second half opening (a drinking song, where Simon Trinder as Slender gets royally pissed) and the Merry Wives song -a  bit of a hoe-down, catchy tune, and good lyrics. They could do with using this song more in the piece, to pull it together.

I realised there can be problems mixing the musical format and Shakespeare’s language – different rhythms means it can be confusing at first to go from one to the other. Also, I enjoy the original so much, it was a wrench to miss out on some of the dialogue and have to put up with a song instead. Although they did it well, the first gulling of Falstaff lost a lot through being sung, for me. Also, it invites comparison of the writing skills – dangerous territory.

Couple of points to remember – individual eyeshades on Brooke’s sunglasses, and Falstaff and cronies arriving on a half-timbered motorbike. Roll on January.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

A Moon For The Misbegotten – December 2006

Experience: 9/10

By Eugene O’Neill

Directed by Howard Davies

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 6th November 2006

Although I enjoyed this play enormously, and suspect that this is about the best production of it we’re likely to see (even assuming we get to see another one!) I felt it was just below 10/10 status for me. But only just. The play itself is a marvel, reminding me of the skill and power of Terence Rattigan in In Praise of Love. The story is basically about the relationships among three people. For long periods there are only two actors on stage, yet it constantly gripped and moved me. I wanted to see what happened to these people – would they make it out of their own personal hells?

The set was visible from the off. A Hopper-esque mid-western landscape with a splash of Dali in the crooked shack, and achingly blue skies stretching into forever while a few clouds failed to look important in the distance. Lovely. Actually, the play is set in Connecticut, which I don’t associate with the empty prairie look, but then what do I know?

Eve Best plays Josie Hogan, the daughter of Phil Hogan (Colm Meaney). The opening scene involves her helping her brother Mike (Eugene O’Hare) to run off. He’s tired of the old man’s beatings, and wants to better himself. We learn that there’s another brother who’s done the same thing before. Josie chooses to stay with her Dad; she can handle him OK, as we see when he turns up looking for his lazy good-for-nothing son. She gets a big stick and threatens him when he turns on her and he soon backs down.

Their conversation is rambling, and entertaining, and gives us a lot of the background. They’re working a pretty difficult farm – mostly stones – and not actually paying rent to the owner, Jim Tyrone (Kevin Spacey) the son of the original owner. Jim is a drunk. He used to be an actor, and apparently talks like he’s headed back to the bright city lights, but he never seems to do anything but mooch around and drink away his inheritance. He comes over regularly to hang out with Phil, mostly in the nearby bar, and despite his joking around we can see he’s really interested in Josie. Their relationship develops over the course of a drunken, moon-soaked night, and naturally we find out why Jim drinks. Phil has been spinning yarns again to encourage Josie to get Jim to propose, so that she can have a good life and not have to keep working on the farm, but it doesn’t quite work out. Although there’s not a happy ending as such, there is a sense of completion, as Josie forgives Jim for his assumed guilt.

We also see one T Steadman Harder (Billy Carter) whose land adjoins Phil’s farm. Phil has been taking liberties with Harder’s ice pond, tearing down the fence between the properties and letting his pigs enjoy themselves in a nice cool pool. Harder turns up to try and thrash things out, but ends up getting thrashed himself, as Phil and Josie gang up on him and accuse him of letting their pigs onto his land where they might drown or catch a cold from the chilly water! Very entertaining, and it shows father and daughter working as a team, which they do very effectively.

All the performances were great, with so much detail in them it was difficult to know who to watch especially when all three leads were on stage together. I do hope this production wins awards.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

To Kill A Mockingbird – December 2006

Experience: 8/10

By Harper Lee, adapted by Christopher Sergel

Directed by Michael Buffong

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 1st December 2006

          This was a real tear-jerker, and no mistake. If I were to read the book, it would be a sodden mass long before the end.

I don’t have any comparison for this adaptation, but it seemed familiar from the film, so I assume it’s pretty faithful to the original book. The set was all walls, doors, windows and yard, with some picket fence and plants in pots. All the neighbours’ houses and yards were represented in this one space, and the action flowed freely amongst them all. A couple of extra walls came into play when we needed a courthouse, along with lots of seats and tables, and we also had a short stop at the prison (this was when my eyes started to get moist) to see the angry mob thwarted by an innocent child. I’m getting emotional again just remembering it all.

I love the way the story is told from the child’s viewpoint. It gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves and the situation explored in the play from a simple perspective. Good is obviously good, and evil wears a black hat. Except that things aren’t always that straightforward, and things don’t always work out the way you want them to. Even though I knew what would happen, I was still tremendously moved by it all.

The performances were all good. I especially appreciated Bettrys Jones as Scout, who has to carry so much of the emotional impact of the story through her character’s innocence. A neighbour was used as the narrator, instead of a grown-up Scout, and that worked fine. Atticus was played by Duncan Preston, with perhaps a tad less perfection than Gregory Peck brought to the screen version, and this worked well for me – it made the messiness of the whole thing more apparent, and emphasised that a lot of the people baying for blood were actually good people at heart who had just taken a wrong turning somewhere along the line. I spotted one of the officials at the trial, who held the Bible witnesses swore on, making some grimaces and movements to show his dislike of Negroes – a nice detail. And I sobbed mercilessly throughout the ending, when Boo Radley saves the children. I don’t know why this story affects me so much – I haven’t sobbed like this for a long time in the theatre, and it did me good to let it all out. I felt so much better at the end of the play, saddened as well, but complete in some way. A fine production, and well performed. Thank you.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at