The Alchemist – February 2007

5/10

By: Paul Coelho, adapted by ???

Directed by: Dominic Knutton

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 27th February 2007

This was a bit of a disappointment. I haven’t read the book, but the opening set up looked promising. A couple of the actors, in costume, were selling programmes inside the auditorium. The programmes consisted of a plastic bag, containing a piece of paper with production information, some sand, a pebble, and a chocolate (bagsy the chocolate!). The other three actors were on stage. I think only one was playing the music, while the rest sat and listened. The stage itself had a large round mat in the middle – a story-telling circle. On it were some large reddish coloured blocks. Outside the circle were instruments and various impedimenta of the production. At the back I could see poles and wires, with small bundles of coloured cloth in various places. It looked like these would be raised up to create a backdrop, and indeed they were. There were three streamers in the middle, and two on each side, which were raised at different times to create different effects. The actors wore basic tops and trousers, except for the woman who was actually playing a woman – the other actress was playing the boy at the heart of the story. Headdresses were added as needed, and I particularly liked the sheep’s heads that most of them wore at the start.

The story is simple – a boy herding sheep has a recurring dream. I lost track of what he was actually dreaming about. One the one hand he seems to see a beautiful woman, and on the other, it’s a child who takes him off to the pyramids to find buried treasure. Anyway, he sets off in search of the treasure, while keeping an eye open for the woman. He has various adventures, arrives at the pyramids, and unravels the mystery, presumably ending up wealthy and with the love of his life, although this adaptation ends with finding the treasure.

Firstly, we found it difficult to ignore some massive coughing coming from our right in the early stages. It was so loud, that I briefly thought it might be part of the performance. Secondly, the delivery from a couple of the actors was on the weak side. The Connaught isn’t a large theatre, and we were seated in row G, yet I lost about half of the dialogue through lack of projection. I felt the production was designed for smaller auditoria – studio spaces perhaps, or theatre in the round. Thirdly, the blocks in the circle sometimes became a distraction, as the actors moved them around to create various settings. Normally, I love this kind of thing, but here it seemed very dull, lacking in imagination, and noisy enough to add to my hearing difficulties. Finally, the story itself seemed a bit simplistic and lacklustre, and I didn’t feel as engaged with it as I would have liked.

On the good side (and there has to be good side, or I wouldn’t have given it 5/10), I did like the music (more of that, please), the use of the cloth streamers at the back, the excellent sheep at the start, and the use of mime throughout to avoid perilous props, e.g. crystal glasses. I perked up when one of the characters is revealed to be Melchizedik, especially as he seemed to have uncanny knowledge of the young lad and his search. The effects with the wind, desert and the hawks were excellent, so perhaps all this production needs is time to bed down. We did see it on the opening night in Worthing; I don’t know how many other performances they’ve done. The actors are certainly talented enough, so good luck to them.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Nothing Like The Sun – February 2007

2/10

By William Shakespeare

Company: Opera North in collaboration with the RSC

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Saturday 24th February 2007

Sonnets for the first half –

73

That time of year that thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west;

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,

Consum’d with that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceives, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

43

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,

For all the day they view things unrespected;

But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,

And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.

Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,

How would thy shadow’s form form happy show

To the clear day with thy much clearer light,

When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!

How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made

By looking on thee in the living day,

When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade

Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!

All days are nights to see till I see thee,

And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red, than her lips red:

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound:

I grant I never saw a goddess go,

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,

As any she belied with false compare.

40

Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all:

What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?

No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;

All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.

Then, if for my love, thou my love receivest,

I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest;

But yet be blam’d, if thou thy self deceives

By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.

I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,

Although thou steal thee all my property:

And yet, love knows it is a greater grief

To bear love’s wrong, than hate’s known injury.

Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,

Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.

27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

But then begins a journey in my head

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:

For then my thoughts – from far where I abide –

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness which the blind do see:

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,

Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.

      Lo! Thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,

      For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

          These sonnets comprised the first half. Each sonnet’s music was written by a different composer, but because they all had the same instruments to work with, the sound tended to be similar. One piece, sonnet 130, did have additional grating sounds – industrial harsh, I call it. Clanging noises, breaking, grinding, plus some hints of waves and wind, etc. Interestingly enough, this was the funniest of the sonnets when read out by the actor, Richard Dillane, but it took on a more somber tone in the musical version.

Sonnet 27, and to a lesser extent sonnet 43, came across to me as referring to God, rather than a woman (controversial, I know). Sonnet 40 seemed to be about unrequited love. The singers were both good. The woman had a clear, sharp voice, like a sharp, dry white wine. The male singer had a mellow, full voice, like a well-rounded burgundy. They didn’t clash, but I felt they weren’t complementary.

Gavin Friday, one of the composers, spoke the lines for sonnet 40 himself, during the musical version. He took a long time coming on from the back, and used a microphone very close to his mouth, which gave his speech a breathy, almost whispered quality. He walked slowly round the stage, and his exit was timed to fit with the music.

I noticed the male singer was turning his pages very quickly – I wondered if he was going for a speed reading record at first, then I reckoned he may have had the orchestral score, with fewer bars per page.

Both actors were very good. Richard Dillane didn’t refer to his script at all, while Nina Sosanya did have to look at hers, probably had less time to rehearse, although from the post-show it may just be that Richard is very familiar with some sonnets anyway.

These are the sonnets for the second half:

60

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end;

Each changing place with that which goes before,

In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

Nativity, once in the main of light,

Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,

Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,

And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth

And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,

Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,

And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:

And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,

Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

123

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:

Thy pyramids built up with newest might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old;

And rather make them born to our desire

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy,

Not wondering at the present nor the past,

For thy records and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste.

This I do vow, and this shall ever be;

I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

128

How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st,

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers, when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap

To kiss the tender inwards of thy hand,

Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,

At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand!

To be so tickl’d, they would change their state

And situation with those dancing chips,

O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,

Making dead wood more blessed than living lips.

Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,

Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

94

They that have power to hurt and will do none,

That do not do the thing they most do show,

Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,

Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;

They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces,

And husband nature’s riches from expense;

They are the lords and owners of their faces,

Others but stewards of their excellence.

The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,

Though to itself it only live and die,

But if that flower with base infection meet,

The basest weed outbraves his dignity:

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

102

My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming;

I love not less, though less the show appear:

That love is merchandiz’d whose rich esteeming

The owner’s tongue doth publish everywhere.

Our love was new, and then but in the spring,

When I was wont to greet it with my lays;

As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,

And stops her pipe in growth of riper days:

Not that the summer is less pleasant now

Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,

But that wild music burthens every bough,

And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.

Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue,

Because I would not dull you with my song.

146

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman, colour’d ill.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend

Suspect I may, but not directly tell;

But being from me, both to each friend,

I guess one angel in another’s hell:

Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

55

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime;

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall statues overturn,

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’[s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

So, till the judgment that yourself arise,

You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

64

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d

The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;

When sometime lofty towers I see down-raz’d,

And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;

When I have seen the hungry ocean gain

Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,

And the firm soil win of the watery main,

Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;

When I have seen such interchange of state,

Or state itself confounded to decay;

Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate –

That Time will come and take my love away.

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose

But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

The second half comprised a through-composed piece, with the words being both spoken and sung. On a screen at the back a film was shown, of various images which the director felt reflected the sense of the sonnet and would enhance the music.

Personally, I found this half rather dull. Again, the singing was fine, though the music wasn’t really to my taste, and I didn’t get any great sense of the sonnets involved. The lines were first spoken by Gavin Friday, in similar vein to his previous performance, but this time he was sitting in a corner of the stage and without a microphone. His delivery wasn’t clear enough for me to hear the words, so I was left without much of a reference point as far as the music was concerned, and that probably added to my listlessness.

The film seemed pretty boring as well, although there were several interesting images as it went on. I liked the slow-motion film of the struck match, seeing the amazing shapes taken by the new-born flame, and also the patterns of smoke from the recently blown-out candle. The disintegrating table settings, as someone lifted and then pulled the tablecloth, were also quite enjoyable, as was the water splashing from a puddle. All of this was in slow motion. Less appealing were the tulip flowers, the patterns of bare branches against a grey sky (repeated too often, for too long), and I found the close-ups of torn plastic hanging from barbed wire verging on the pretentious. Both Steve and I had a good laugh afterwards at the other image I remember – a swinging light bulb -because it reminded us of the opening credits for Callan, so many years ago.

As I couldn’t make out enough of the words, I couldn’t pass the time reflecting on their meaning, so this part of the evening dragged for me. Fortunately it was fairly short, and the seats were comfortable.

 

Post-show – an RSC lady introduced the post-show by explaining how she had got Deborah Shaw and Dominic Cooke together to do this project. Then we went through some of the other connections that were made in the overall process. Various members of the creative ensemble had worked together before or were working together at the time, and so the overall production came together. They all seemed to be united in finding Shakespeare’s sonnets terrifying to tackle. Some composers they approached couldn’t fit it into their schedules, but everyone involved was on the list.

Gavin (main composer) knew what instruments would be used – this is a touring production, so instruments were limited. No violins, but he had a double bass, cello and two violas. They were originally thinking of doing this in the Swan, but then the Courtyard became an option. Dominic asked what the acoustics would be like (while it was still a car park!) and particularly because of the schedule it became the chosen venue.

It was interesting for the actors, with their approach to the text, then seeing how the composers had tackled the same pieces – one sonnet in particular (130) was very funny when read by the actor, but much more serious as a piece of music. There was a general sense of synergy.

Some of the music was only ready in the last few days. The order of the pieces was serendipitous, as programs were being printed in advance, and it so happened the pieces worked well together, although the order may change in the future. This performance is towards the end of the RSC’s Complete Works season, and Opera North will be doing a season of opera based on Shakespeare later this year, so it’s quite a good crossover.

Some people heard it all clearly, some couldn’t, but Gavin’s approach seemed to be that it was more of a sound experience than a word experience, so tough.

Choice of sonnets – guest composers could choose what they wanted, Gavin focused on sonnets he didn’t know and that weren’t well known, also those that were more philosophical rather than the love poems.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Macbeth – February 2007

8/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Grzegorz Bral

Company: Teatr Piesn Kozla (Song of the Goat Theatre)

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Friday 23rd February 2007

This is a work in progress, as described in the brochure, so we had no idea what to expect. I felt certain that we would use the term “song of the goat” long after this performance, but I didn’t know what we would be referring to. It was so different, and so varied, that I may not be able to remember all of it, or the correct order, but here goes. Bear in mind this performance was about one hour, thirty-five minutes long – I doubt I’ll get these notes written that fast.

The Swan stage was filled with chairs. Most stood in a ring round the three inner seats. The outer ring faced in, the inner three faced out. [22/1/08 – I’ve only just realised the three inner seats were probably for the witches.] They were all straight, high-backed wooden chairs. With the lights low, the actors filed on from all four corners to take their seats. As they sat there, silently, the lights gradually grew stronger, shafting down from high oblique angles. I wasn’t sure at first if I was really hearing a faint droning sound, but as it became stronger, I realised the actors were toning, or humming, to create a background drone. Very pleasant. Then I caught a few over notes, and soon we had a full-blown vocal orchestra – polyphony, as the director later told us. There was a song, presumably in some middle European language (although this company is Polish, there were references to Russian songs, and other musical traditions in the director’s comments, so not knowing the languages, I don’t know which they were singing in. Possibly Polish, possibly not). Over this, one of the actors spoke some of the lines of the bloody man (honest, guv, that’s what it says in the text), and the rhythms of his speech blended with the singing to add greater musical texture than I’ve experienced before, even for Shakespeare. I was very aware of the unfolding story – how a mighty force was attacking, and Macbeth rose to the challenge.

By the way, we didn’t need surtitles, as all the text was spoken in English, but there was a screen up on the top balcony, showing short descriptions of what the actors were working on, what the section was about. This first section was entitled “Crown”.

The singing/chanting/droning changed from time to time, but that’s probably the least easy part to remember in detail. The next piece of text was also the first time an actor moved from their chair – Lady Macbeth reading her husband’s letter and telling us her point of view. This was interestingly staged. Lady Macbeth moved outside the circle of chairs and prowled round them, giving us an insight into her ruthlessness and ambition. As she came round to the front, she was saying some lines which appear to address her husband directly, although we know he isn’t there, but in fact she was able to speak them to the actor playing Macbeth. She completed the speech and the circle at the same time. I was very aware of her isolation, and that she was actually speaking only to herself, which doesn’t always happen with soliloquies.

Next up (literally) was Macbeth, and “If t’were done when ‘tis done…..”. (Chanting still on the go.) This was very interesting. Again, the rhythm of his speech intertwined with the music, and heightened the sense of his emotional journey. And, unlike Lady Macbeth, who returned to the same place, he ends up sitting in the only other empty chair, a sign of his movement as a character. I also found that the empty chair at the start reminded me of Banquo’s seat at the feast.

Finally, we had a song, and then that section was finished. The actors stood up, and removed the chairs, while the director came on to talk with us. First, he apologised to anyone who had come tonight to see the play Macbeth, as that wasn’t what they would be doing. His troupe’s work is based on a tradition of performance in Poland going back to the 1920s or 30s. Never mind 6 weeks rehearsals, this lot get 2 or 3 years! Basically, it’s ready when it’s ready. There are three strands which they explore and weave together to produce the final piece – music, text, movement. What they were doing tonight was to show us some of the work so far, and explore some facets of the play through sound, movement and text, to get a better understanding of what’s going on, and what works and what doesn’t.

The next section he introduced as “Cauldron”, where they explored the magical, witchcraft aspects. Seven witches sat down, with a bundle of poles, also used later. The chanting and keening portrayed grief at first then changed and became stronger. Not sure what that was about, but I did get a sense of the witches being desperately unhappy women – no families of their own, perhaps?

There’s no particular order now. We saw men waving poles around. They had long strips of cloth ranging from red through pink to white attached to them, so they made a beautiful, swirling pattern. Their movements reminded me of Tai Chi.

Family – another section. The actors stood in a family pose with men standing, women sitting and children at the feet. They sang a more cheerful song, while Macbeth’s fear of Banquo’s future success gnaws at his vitals – God, that man can suffer.

Lady Macbeth was being chased by a witch/demon, who grabs at her from behind. Perhaps they repeated this a few too many times? This leads into the “Come, evil spirits..” routine, and gave me the idea that Lady Macbeth is cracking up from the moment she gets that letter. Letters in Shakespeare are usually bad news – he’s a terrible advert for the Post Office – and this one’s a corker! Her madness is evident in the way she conjures the spirits, and there’s also a sense of her later, obvious madness and sleepwalking as being her own creation through the spell she casts.

Malcolm meeting Macduff, with news from Ross, is played out round and on a set of floor mats, and lines are spoken as the actors are tumbling, turning cartwheels, etc. Their breath control must be amazing. I was still very moved by the news of Lady Macduff and all the little Macduffs’ fate.

They used dissonance – half tones – to show Macbeth’s increasing madness. Well, yes, you would go mad if you had sounds like that crashing through your brain all the time. Eeugh! But brilliantly performed – that kind of dissonance is hard to sing. Steve reckons he knows why Macbeth goes mad – it’s because he’s got migraines.

Macbeth and the dagger scene – three actors surround him, and seem to entrap him, so he can’t get out – guardian devils? They move backwards and forwards in a visceral dance, the devils constantly blocking his escape. Once he’s resolved and steadies, they steady, and then leave, knowing he’s set on his path.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth inviting Banquo to dinner and checking what he’s doing in the meantime, was followed by Man & Horse – Banquo being killed while out riding. The movements here were also balletic and effective.

Banquet scene – I thought it would be Banquo’s feast, but no, it was the original one with Duncan.

At times, they used only music to create an image. At one point, Lady Macbeth was tying herself up in ribbons attached to a pole.

Everyone was sitting on tables and chairs at the end, then reformed the circle for another bit of “Crown”, standing this time. There was more fighting with poles – Hells Gate – and they end up throwing the poles to Macbeth, who was perched on top of the stack of furniture.

While this description is quite jumbled, the sections made more sense at the time. I was very impressed with the actors’ dedication. Working on this stuff for so long may seen self-indulgent, but it takes a lot of commitment, and the results were immensely powerful, if not always pleasant (e.g. dissonance). I would be keen to see some of their other work, or indeed this production, once it comes to fruition.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Signpost To Murder – February 2007

6/10

By Monte Doyle

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 19th February 2007

This was an entertaining thriller, not too surprising but reasonable all the same. A man escapes from a lunatic asylum having been sent there after supposedly killing his wife. He takes a woman hostage in her house because if he can stay free for 28 days, the order sending him to the loony bin expires and a new order has to be drawn up. The woman he takes hostage has some strange ways with her, and it soon becomes clear that she’s killed her husband and is using the escaped madman as cover – she can pin the blame on him when it comes to light. It’s also obvious that the orderly at the hospital had to be helping the madman both to go free and to know where to go. All very devious, and nicely done.

We’re keen on recycling, so it was good to see the Arsenic and Old Lace set reused here with a little different dressing. I spotted the window seat, but Steve realised it was the whole kit and caboodle. The actors were mainly from soapland TV, and there was an element of lignum in the performances with one, the Inspector, being well below average. Still, they managed well enough, and the central part of the wife was carried off convincingly, which made a big difference to the whole performance. Even so, there was a lot of laughter at some bits which were pretty ropey and the piece has dated a bit (set in the early 60s, and originally produced in 1962).

We enjoyed it well enough, and in some ways it’s a relief to see something not so challenging for a change. At the very end, when the doctor from the asylum had let his patient go, the lead actor turned to the audience and gave us a really good evil grin to finish the evening off nicely.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

French Without Tears – February 2007

6/10

By: Terence Rattigan

Directed by: Paul Miller

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 16th February 2007

I was well confused by all the signs that were up in the foyer before the performance. On the one hand, we were informed that the part of Lord Heybrook(?) would be played by some chap, and on the other, that the part of Kit Neilan would be played by Ben Lambert. What was going on? Especially as Lord Heybrook wasn’t mentioned in the cast list? Total confusion, finally cleared up at the very end of the play. So read on.

We were in the Circle for only the second time at the Yvonne Arnaud, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The front row is fine, but the other rows are very snug, both sideways and for leg room. Somehow it seemed steeper than in the second circle at the RST. But we managed. Our view was OK, though we couldn’t see faces very well, and some of the dialogue was lost.

There was an announcement at the start about the replacement for Kit Neilan’s part. Apparently Hugh Skinner had needed surgery last Sunday, and Ben Lambert had taken over at very short notice. (They had two rehearsal days scheduled, the Monday and Tuesday, then the opening night!) As a result, Ben was using the script, and they hoped we would be OK with that (well of course we would). Given that the setting is a language school, it didn’t seem too out of place to have one of the characters carrying a script around – they had notebooks most of the time anyway.

The set was a living room – door back left, French windows beside them to the patio and garden, door to kitchen back right, fireplace on the left wall with a couple of chairs and some stools in front of it, and in the centre of the room, a long table with eight chairs. There wasn’t much decoration on the walls – a map of Europe, a couple of pictures – and so the room seemed very sparse. Maybe the effect was different from another angle.

The play opens with a chap, Kenneth, sitting at the table with his books, apparently working on some exercise or other, as the maid brings in the breakfast things – bread and coffee, basically. We then meet the other characters as they trickle in for breakfast. There’s Brian, the man about town who’s only after a good time with lots of women, drink, fun and minimal work. Kenneth has to translate “she has ideas above her station” into French, for which Brian helpfully suggests “elle a des idées au dessus de son gare”, a line I remembered, but didn’t know from where. Now I do. As a general point, there were lots of French lines in this, and apart from not always hearing them clearly, I couldn’t have followed most of them anyway. It’s been a long time since I did any French, and it wasn’t up to this standard. So that did take off a bit from my enjoyment. Perhaps a copy of the text and a French/English dictionary are called for before we see it again.

The plot revolves around Kenneth’s sister, Diana, a total vamp. She readily acknowledges that her only talent is to make men fall in love with her, and while she’s staying at the villa while her brother learns enough French to join the Diplomatic Service, she’s put herself about a bit. One student, Kit has already fallen under her spell, and another, Alan (the son of an ambassador, and therefore expected to follow in his father’s career) has been resisting manfully. The action (such as it is in a Rattigan play) hots up when a new man arrives to start studying with them. Lt-Commander Rogers, or Bill, is treated to Diana’s charms from the off, and she manages to tell both him and Kit that she’s not really interested in the other, but loves only them. Matters come to a head when both men finally stop fighting long enough to discover her deception, and confront her together, demanding to know which man she truly loves. The devious manipulative she-devil-bitch then indicates that it’s Alan she’s really in love with, and he desperately enlists the help of the other two to protect him from her seductive spell.

Alan decides to leave the villa and take up writing full-time, partly because that’s his dream, and partly to avoid Diana. She’s all for going with him, but as Lord Heybrook is about to arrive, she sees a better chance, and hangs on. Everyone has a good laugh as she makes her entrance, all titivated up to entice the new student. It turns into an even bigger laugh as he comes through the French windows – all of fifteen, and not even shaving yet! Her disappointment was a pleasure for all to see.

There’s also a sub-plot concerning Jacqueline, the professor’s daughter, who’s been in love with Kit for a couple of months. She has a chat with Diana at one point, and it becomes clear that Diana isn’t prepared to share her men, even though she’s got more than she can handle. Fortunately, once Kit realises Diana’s deceitfulness, he starts to consider other options, assisted by Alan’s betrayal of Jacqueline’s confidences. It also becomes clear that for all Diana’s seductions, she’s not actually prepared to take things beyond the kissing stage – when Brian tries it on, she gives him a good slap.

Given the newness of the production, and having one cast member still reliant on the script, I thought they did this very well. All the performances were fine, and I particularly liked Alan, Brian and Bill, while Diana was seriously believable as a woman who can snare men without even lifting a finger. The scene where the men discover Diana’s duplicity was well done, and will come on more when Kit can drop the script fully. I also enjoyed the drunken aftermath, when the men have come back from the casino and are well sloshed – we get to see a different side to Bill. The French went largely over my head, and although it got a lot of laughs from the stalls, I suspect I wasn’t the only one missing out. I did find the amount of laying and clearing of the table a bit distracting, but on the whole I enjoyed this, and would like to see it again, to see how it develops.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Richard III – February 2007

6/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Michael Boyd

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Saturday 10th February 2007

Coming at the end of a long day’s play watching, it’s not too surprising that I felt a bit overdone by the end of the evening. I did enjoy this production, however, although my mind wasn’t as sharp as it might have been.

I don’t need to go through the story for this one. There were a few edits that I noticed, specifically the reference to time when Buckingham is asking Richard for his promised reward. On the whole, though, this seemed a fairly complete reading, and carried on where the Henry VIs had left off.

This play is much more about the political manoeuvring between the various factions and Richard’s manipulation of everyone, with the battle being saved for the final scenes. As a result, it seemed calmer than the prequels, though there’s still a lot of action. Richard does bustle about in his efforts to get the throne, and Jonathan Slinger reflected that in his performance. It’s always interesting to see how much Richard is in command and how much he’s winging it. Here I would say he’s more of a brash gambler, making his play and putting heart and soul into it. If it doesn’t come off, too bad, but he’ll do everything he can to make it happen.

The wooing of Anne was successful, as usual, but I wasn’t fully convinced he’d pulled it off. Richard’s manner rarely changed; he was much the same throughout the play, so there was less light and shade than I’m used to (or should that be shade and darkness). I felt the humour was being worked at a little too hard at times, though it was all still enjoyable. The build up to this play through the previous two was excellent, and so his character was already developed from the off.

Mad Margaret, played by Katy Stephens, was the best I’ve seen, all fire and venom. Her character had become more bitter through her experiences, and she could still talk. Which is just as well, because that’s what her character’s there for – to tell all the others just how bad things are, how much worse they’re going to get, and how much she hates them all.

For this play, they were using modern weapons and we heard helicopters overhead. It can be a little awkward doing this when there are so many references to swords, but I felt they handled it very well. The scene where Richard is pretending to the Mayor of London that he’s under attack was staged with him and Buckingham besieged behind an overturned table, looking like there was a house to house gun battle raging. They convinced the Mayor enough to make him nervous too, although as he probably grasped something of the political situation he was getting involved in, he’d have been nervous anyway.

That’s all I can remember now, after a long gap. I made a cryptic note about the murders and the execution of the second murderer, but that will have to wait till we see them again next February. Hopefully it will all make sense then. I also remember that the ghosts before the battle were well done, but don’t recall the detail.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Henry VI part 3 – February 2007

6/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Michael Boyd

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Saturday 10th February 2007

The civil war is now well under way, and poor Henry is going to be in and out of captivity a number of times during the period of this play. Actually, you could argue that he’s never out of captivity by this time, as both sides treat him as little more than a pawn, including his own people. We get straight into the action, with the Yorkists taking control of the parliament building, and setting Richard, Duke of York, on the throne. This is also our first sight of his son, Richard, of whom more later.

Henry turns up, with his backers, and they’re all riled up at York’s effrontery. Henry, however, is as peace-loving as ever – don’t you just want to give him a good slap? Basically the two sides have a slanging match, and even Henry says some strong words. He tries to argue his right, but York’s points cause one of Henry’s supporters to change sides, which leads Henry to waver (not that it takes much to do that). He offers a compromise – let him reign as King for his lifetime and the crown will then pass to York and his heirs. Sounds good, doesn’t it, but Henry has a son, and, more importantly, a wife, who will not take this lying down. There certainly will be trouble ahead. Sit back and enjoy.

Sure enough, immediately after York and his followers leave, the Queen turns up, with their son, and gives Henry an earful. Boy, can she talk. She’s along the same lines as Lady Macbeth, but much more talkative, and nothing like so successful at getting her husband to do his manly duty. So she heads off to get her army and start sorting out the mess her husband has got her into. (If you want a job done properly…)

Meanwhile, up in Yorkshire, York’s sons, especially young Richard (what a little scamp!), have persuaded their father to claim his crown now, not wait till Henry dies. Just at that moment, the Queen turns up with her army and besieges them. Battle ensues, and little Rutland, York’s youngest, is caught by the Queen’s troops and slain, along with his tutor. It’s a pitiable sight, but his slayer, Clifford, has already lost his father in the fighting, and has no compunction in killing a child. We get to see the depths people sink to when civil war rampages through a country, and, sadly, there are all too many modern counterparts around.

York himself is caught by the Queen, and put through worse abuse than being killed. They mock him as a pretend king, standing him on a molehill, and telling him about the loss of Rutland. The Queen even has a napkin, soaked in Rutland’s blood, which she gives him. She puts a paper crown on his head, and continues to mock him while he suffers. Fortunately, she allows him time to speak before they kill him, which has one great benefit – it gives Shakespeare an opportunity to write York some fine vitriolic lines to balance hers. It’s a wonderfully emotional speech, and this performance was very moving. Then they kill him.

Next we see Edward and Richard as they wonder what’s happened to their father. As they talk, the sun is rising, and they apparently see three suns. Taking this as a good omen, Edward vows to show three suns on his shield. Warwick joins them, and there’s a lot of military verbalising (boys will be boys), until the messenger tells them the Queen’s army is nearby again, and they head off for another battle. This would almost be boring if it wasn’t for the marvellous language and the way this production gets the last scrap of humour out of it.

Again, there’s a long slanging match between the two armies, and another battle, with Richard showing himself a willing fighter. In the midst of all this, what’s King Henry doing? Why, he’s sitting in the middle of a field, ruminating, as you do, thinking how nice it would be to be an ordinary man, no royal responsibilities, just a simple life. As he sits there, a young man enters with a dead body – it’s someone he’s killed in the battle. As he checks the body for plunder, he realises he’s killed his own father, and is stricken with remorse. Then they flip round, and turn into an old man who’s slain a young one. The same revelation follows, only this time the man has killed his own son. King Henry observes all this and is quick to empathise with these men’s losses. Even so, he considers himself worse off than them. (I don’t agree – after all, it’s his wishy-washiness that’s partly caused all these killings, so suck it up!)

A dying Clifford is left on the battlefield after the rest of the Queen’s troops have fled, and Edward and his followers spare him nothing in revenge for the death of York. Fortunately for Clifford, he’s already dead before they get going, so he’s well out of it. Now Warwick decides to go to France, to ask the French King for his sister’s hand for Edward. Richard is given the Dukedom of Gloucester, and George that of Clarence, but Richard asks to change, as Gloucester is “too ominous”. Edward doesn’t take him seriously (silly boy).

King Henry, having escaped to Scotland with his wife, decides to revisit his own country, and gets captured by a couple of game keepers. This leads to an interesting exchange on allegiance, as the keepers were originally Henry’s sworn subjects, and he’s not dead, yet now they’re Edward’s loyal subjects. Fortunately, Henry’s a pretty cooperative chap, so he goes along with them to prison. Back in London, Edward, now King Edward, is dealing with the granting of favours. One Lady Grey, whose husband died fighting for the Yorkists, has come to ask for her husband’s lands to be restored to her. Edward is so taken with her, he gives her half of England! He woos her, overcomes her resistance, marries her, and all without letting Warwick know about this change of plans. (I see more trouble ahead.)

It’s at this time that we get the first taste of Richard’s lust for power. Just after Edward’s asked his brothers what they think of his choice of Lady Grey as his Queen, Richard is left alone on stage to tell us all about his ambitions. He’s not sure yet how to get the crown, as there are just too many people in his way, but he’ll figure it out, never worry.

Over in the French court, Queen Margaret is well received, but the French King’s courtesies are hollow when faced with the political reality. Henry is in prison, Edward on the throne, and the King would be foolish to back the recent evictee over the man in possession. Warwick, so full of bluster, is dissing Margaret and her companions’ claims, and getting well in with the French King, so the news of Edward’s marriage comes as a pretty big shock. So big, in fact, that Warwick immediately changes sides. Well, he considers himself the power behind the throne, and to find out he’s not hurts his massive ego beyond endurance. Margaret, meantime, has pounced on the news like a ravenous dog given a big meaty bone. She’s the consummate politician, immediately ready to accept Warwick’s offer of friendship and support to restore Henry to the throne, despite their previous contempt and bickering.

In all of this, I feel sorry for the Lady Bona, sister of the French King, as she’s been bartered for and then dumped. Naturally, she encourages her brother to lend support to the Lancastrians, to revenge the slight on her, and who can blame her? She even has to put up with another political match being arranged right under her nose, as to ensure his loyalty, Warwick agrees to marry his daughter to Edward, Henry’s son.

Back in England, Edward’s marriage is causing some divisions. Obviously all the new in-laws have to be given titles and well-connected brides, so there are fewer for his own brothers to snaffle. Also, there’s a message from Warwick, sending in his resignation and declaring war. (You just can’t do that in a text.) On hearing that Warwick’s daughter is to marry Edward (sorry, all these repetitive names do get a bit confusing), Clarence decides to change sides, and nips off to marry Warwick’s other daughter. Frankly, it all makes Dallas look a bit tame.

So off we go to battle again. Edward (the King, this time), is captured, then freed, Henry, now King again, hands all power to Warwick, who argues that Clarence should take precedence (will wonders never cease?), Edward gets help from Burgundy, fight, fight, battle, fight, then Clarence changes sides again, and finally Edward’s forces capture Margaret and her son, kill him, take Henry prisoner, and it’s all over (till the next play). Whew!

The final scene shows the happy York family enjoying the fruits of warfare. I’ll never forget the wonderful ESC production which set this in Edwardian times (appropriately enough), ending with a final line from Richard (Andrew Jarvis) “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York”. This production echoes that slightly, by again having all the other actors towards the back, laughing and having a good time, while Richard comes forward, stands at the front of the stage, says “Now”, and then the lights go out.

Again, I felt the political shenanigans came across very well in this version, and there was even more humour as Richard, that shalt be King hereafter, gets into his stride. It’s an impressive feat to keep the audience interested in such complicated toing and froing, but Michael Boyd and his talented cast manage it very well. The use of slow motion and silhouettes continued, to good effect. I still found the energetic fighting a bit difficult to like. It may just be battle fatigue given current events, but in many ways I’m happy to feel like this. Raw patriotic fervour is all very well, but these battles are not helping anyone but the ambitious and proud.

In some ways, I would have liked to have had more time to absorb this performance on its own, before plunging into Richard III. We’ll be doing them again early next year, hopefully, so I may have more thoughts then, as well as commenting on ways in which the production has moved on.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me