Twelfth Night – September 2007


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Neil Bartlett

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Friday 28th September 2007

I was a bit disappointed with this production, and there were several reasons for this, not all to do with what was happening on the stage. To begin with, this was the first time we’d sat so far back, under the overhang, and I just didn’t feel connected to the performance emotionally at all. I felt the action was a long way away, and I just couldn’t get involved. This may be because we’ve been so close for so long that we’ve adjusted to that, or it may be the performance wasn’t being “sent out” enough, I don’t know. Either way, it made the evening less enjoyable, sadly.

Another difficulty was that we’ve seen the Chichester Festival version of Twelfth Night so recently, and it was so magnificent, that echoes are bound to carry over, and it’s hard not to compare. While this production is clearly different, the fact that I couldn’t engage with it meant I could never overcome the comparison, and it fell short on that score as well. This was unfortunate, as normally we’d have months if not years between productions.

The set was also unfortunate. The acting space went right to the back of the theatre, from what I could see, although there was a door at the back so the set wasn’t right up to the back wall. The walls were clad in backstage plasterboard, and there were racks with clothes either side at the rear, so the setting was clearly meant to remind us that all the characters are playing a part. There was a screen at the front of all this, at the upper level, which created a deep overhang for the rear part of the stage, and which separated later on to show us Malvolio imprisoned in the drying room, but was otherwise a sombre presence, not entirely helpful to a comedy. All of this was in drab colours, and with the black of many of the costumes, which were unequivocally Edwardian, the whole effect was depressing rather than uplifting. The attempt to create a space with no clear time and location might have been better served in other ways than precise period costume and immediately recognisable setting, but that’s life.

The biggest problem I found with the performance itself was that Viola, played by Chris New, was the most masculine Viola I’ve ever seen. Apart from a little bit of simpering, some semi-mincing and some hair patting, this was basically another Sebastian. I was never able to see him as a woman, and there was very little of Viola’s vulnerability, or at least her awareness of her vulnerable position, and no real sign of her grief. Other performances were OK, and any weaknesses I’d put down to the production. The cross-casting of males and females, which seemed to be mainly to get the right proportions for the companion Comedy of Errors, meant that Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian were played by women, and done pretty well, while Viola was still the only female part played by a man. Sir Andrew, in particular, was well done, as an aristocratic silly-ass, who was obviously trying to emulate Sir Toby in everything. Sir Toby was a weaker character than some I’ve seen. His drinking had obviously got the better of him some time ago, and Maria (Siobhan Redmond), all wiggles, was clearly going to have the upper hand in their relationship. They snuck off with their luggage while everyone else is partying at the end.

John Lithgow as Malvolio was also very entertaining. Starched upright, he moved as gracefully and sedately as if dancing a mournful minuet, so when he did break into a trot, to catch up with Viola, he looked wonderfully absurd. His fantasises about being married to Olivia built us up nicely for the actual letter reading, and with no attempt at greenery, the attempts of the watchers to hide themselves were even more funny. Malvolio’s excessive joy at finding his dreams have come true was expressed by rubbing the letter all over his face, and the practice smiles, which took a bit of doing, were wonderfully grotesque. This was undoubtedly the best scene of the play.

The later Malvolio scenes – the cross-gartering, the madness and the revenge – were all good, with Malvolio showing more dignity in the latter two than I’ve seen before. Finally, the discovery sequence was good, although I wonder if that’s just the quality of the writing rather the performances, and I particularly liked the way in which Olivia is in turmoil after finding out she’s married a man she doesn’t know, and who isn’t the man she took him to be (after all, she doesn’t know Cesario that well either). She has to think really hard about whether she’ll accept this marriage or not, but eventually decides to make the best of it. A good level of ambiguity with which to end the performance.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Saint Joan -September 2007


By: George Bernard Shaw

Directed by: Marianne Elliot

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Tuesday 25th September 2007

This was an amazing production. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would take to it, but once I got used to the style being used, I became completely enthralled, and cried buckets. It’s as if, finally, we’re starting to get enough distance from Shaw to do proper modern productions, without the concern for his detailed stage directions and vision. This was such a contemporary version, that both Steve and I felt the dialogue had been updated – it seemed so modern.

The set was reminiscent of the Romeo and Juliet directed by Nancy Meckler as part of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival. There was a square raised area in the centre of the stage, sloping slightly from back to front, and around the back of the stage were blasted tree trunks at various angles. Otherwise, the stage seemed completely bare. A stack of chairs stood on the platform, all piled up higgledy-piggledy, and the opening to the play had a number of the cast (there was one woman and about twenty men) come on from the back in slow motion, and gradually unpack the chairs. They stood for a moment at the back, doing what looked like tai chi hand movements – don’t know what that was meant to represent – then a number went round the sides of the platform and stood there, while others got onto the platform and passed chairs down to them. All of this was done in slow motion, very gracefully, almost balletic, and all the while there was haunting music filling the space. There was also a woman’s voice, with a song that was somewhat medieval, somewhat religious, somewhat folk music.

Given the staging, I wasn’t surprised to find the chairs being slammed down onto the stage from time to time – in similar vein to the poles in Romeo and Juliet – as a stylised form of combat. At one point, a chair had taken too much punishment and disintegrated, having to be carried off in pieces by the actor.

Almost forgot – at the very start, there was a church cross on a pole at the back of the stage, and some chap took it off. OK, so there we were with two rows of chaps on either side of the platform, holding chairs, and obviously going to slam them down all at the same time, which they did. I had hoped this would lead us straight into the wonderful opening line – one of the best in all drama – but there was more slow-motion stuff as the stage was prepared. When we did finally get “No eggs!”, there wasn’t much energy around to give it any punch, which I do feel is a waste. I also found it distracting to have all the other actors standing around, or sitting, as the scenes were acted on the platform. The slow motion was also used a lot, as characters would suddenly “go slow” as they left the platform, and either stand still waiting for their next entrance, or walk off very slowly. At first this was distracting, then the play started to work its magic, and I found it all helped to build a superb atmosphere.

The platform in the middle also showed more flexibility than I expected. I thought it might be a bit dull having such a sparse set, but as the scenes changed, the platform rotated (on the revolve) and later rose up, to create a slope for the walls of Orleans, and a lean-to effect behind the political discussion between the English and the Catholic Church’s representative. For some scenes, the revolve was slow but continuous, creating interesting changes of perspective throughout the scene.

All the performances were terrific. Anne-Marie Duff was a great Joan. She gave us the wilfulness and naivety along with her courage and absolute faith in her connection to God through her voices. This only wavered when she was confronted with the horror of being burned at the stake, and her fear of physical pain came to the fore. Her renewal of her faith once she realises she could be kept a prisoner for the rest of her life was very moving, and I sobbed. (Actually, I sobbed many times during the performance, this was only one of them.) I was very aware of the fact that there were no other women on the stage, and that hers was a lone voice speaking up against the dogmatism of learned men, some honourable, some not, but all out of touch with the reality of Spirit. In some ways I’m amazed at the marvellous lines Shaw gives Joan and the other characters. I’ve not always thought of Shaw as the greatest observer of human nature – good, but not the greatest – but here he showed such compassion and balance in the writing that I may have to consider this his masterpiece.

Other performances I want to mention include Michael Thomas, Angus Wright and Paterson Joseph as the three plotters who perhaps contribute the most to Joan’s downfall. Michael Thomas plays the Chaplain de Stogumber, Angus Wright plays the Earl of Warwick, and Paterson Joseph plays the Bishop of Beauvais. The chaplain seems to be anti everything – a Daily Mail reader, but with more right-wing views. His character gets to express straightforward anti-Semitism in a way that would be virtually impossible in a modern play, but in this context it simply shows what sort of ideas these people had. The Earl of Warwick is educated, but doesn’t let that stand in his way. He’s a political animal, looking for the best solution for English interests, and prepared to make a pact with the devil if that will do the job. He generally smoothes over the feathers ruffled by his outspoken chaplain, but is capable of ruffling a few himself. The Bishop is concerned for the Church’s position, and also for Joan’s soul, but as the Church’s position has often relied upon political manoeuvring, he and the Earl can come to an accommodation. The discussion among these characters was fascinating and showed understandable motivations for the aspects of society they represent. They’re not villains, but they are dangerous if you’re on the “wrong” side.

Finally, Paul Ready as the Dauphin was wonderfully pouty and reluctant, a spoilt royal brat with no interest in taking charge. Unfortunately, when he finally does, it’s to renounce Joan and her advice, so he’s obviously not much good at gratitude either.

The production includes a final scene that I don’t remember from before, but that may just be my bad memory. After she’s been killed, all those involved reappear and discuss their parts in her killing. Some have changed their minds about her, some haven’t. She confronts them, and gradually they all head off, leaving her alone on stage. She also leaves, and we see the opening process of unstacking chairs gone through again, leading right up to the opening of the play, but stopping before the first line.

This is of course suggestive of a repeating cycle, but here I found it inappropriate, as I don’t see Joan’s story as cyclical. Aspects of what happened on stage are constantly recurring, but I didn’t feel the repetition angle was justified by what we’d seen. I was very aware how dangerous dogma can be, especially when people see being different as being wrong. I also felt that somehow France wasn’t in as much danger once the Dauphin had been crowned, that the men who were now in charge would sort things out, eventually, and that they were very concerned to do that themselves, not with the help of a gurl. In fact, perhaps the contrast between then and now in terms of how women are treated, is what makes me feel there isn’t a repeating cycle. The misogyny expressed so clearly would be less likely today, with so much attention to political correctness, however much it may still lurk beneath the surface. I see the relevance of this story to today more in standing up to authority according to the dictates of your heart. Comparisons of Joan to modern-day terrorists seem to miss the point of the play – she was right, and history appears to have vindicated her.

Most of all, I liked this production because it seems to be the first to really shake off the Shavian legacy, and present the play just as a play. I hope to see more such productions, although how well they’ll respond to such treatment remains to be seen.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

The Importance Of Being Earnest – September 2007


By: Oscar Wilde

Directed by: Peter Gill

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 24th September 2007

This was a little disappointing. With Penelope Keith being the main attraction we were worried it might be a star vehicle, and although it wasn’t quite that bad, it did seem to have been let down a bit by the strange emphasis on Victorian cultural references. By this I mean that on several occasions I found myself thinking how topical a line would have been in Wilde’s day, probably hot off the press, but as I didn’t know the background, I couldn’t find it particularly funny. I had read the program notes, so some lines made more sense, but there were others that I was still clueless about.

Still, there was a lot to enjoy, mainly because Wilde’s writing is so good that no production can keep it down for long. I found the men a bit dull in the opening scene. Although they’d been well cast to resemble each other, they didn’t have much sparkle, and made up for it by being brisk, which doesn’t really help. The women, however, were splendid (and had better costumes, of course). This Gwendolyn will be a magnificent match for Lady Bracknell in a relatively short time, and Cecily was as conceited a romantic little bunny as one could wish to find in Hertfordshire. The parson was good and Miss Prism was excellent – I’ve never seen a better performance of the part. Penelope Keith was good enough as Lady Bracknell, although she was probably the worst for losing lines – delivering them in as inconspicuous a way as possible, just in case we enjoyed them.

With this strange direction, the play lost some of its sparkle, but rose above the difficulties many times. Even knowing what line is about to come doesn’t spoil it. I remain impressed with Wilde’s work, and dubious about the motives behind this production. However, we’re seeing another touring production later this year, so it will be interesting to compare notes.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Nicholas Nickleby part 2 – September 2007


By: Charles Dickens, adapted by David Edgar

Directed by: Jonathan Church and Philip Franks

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 20th September 2007

First we attended the pre-show event in the Minerva, where Philip Franks chatted with David Edgar about this production and adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. Both of them were knowledgeable and entertaining, so the time flew, and I’m not sure how much I can remember now. David covered the choice of play to adapt fairly briefly (there are notes in the program) and again emphasised how lucky it was that he agreed to do this book instead of Our Mutual Friend. What came across as he talked was that he isn’t as familiar with Dickens work as might be supposed. Philip talked about his enthusiasm for the full-length version first done at Stratford, which he visited regularly in his younger days.

There was talk about the changes between last year’s production and this year, and Philip confirmed that there was more light and shade in the performances: Daniel Weyman as Nicholas had been determined to rise to the challenge last year, which was appropriate enough, but this year he knew he could do it and was now able to look for ways to play the young man unsure of how to handle the world and the situations he finds himself in. The scene where he has to decide whether to take Smike with him or not was much more moving this time, and I certainly felt the decision wasn’t an easy one.

I asked if there were any changes David still wanted to make, and if the play had been translated at all. Both David and Philip answered the first point. David felt there had to come a time when you said “enough’s enough” and let the piece be, although there was still some tinkering even this year. Philip has a file called Reclaim, where he keeps all the bits he wants to see back in the production – by the time they get to Plymouth, it may be back to two four hour parts! This year, they had put back in some lines where Nicholas and Kate are showing Smike the house where they grew up, lines about how it always seemed to be summer then.

On the translation point, the play has been translated, particularly into Swedish and Finnish, for some reason – not so much into other European languages. David appears to go to just about every production he can, and told us how strange it was to hear the Swedish version, where the only things he could make out were the proper names – a gabble of Swedish, then “Mrs Nagg”, etc. He also mentioned another version of his original, which had been done by a theatre group themselves, which brought out different aspects of the play, and Philip mentioned yet another version he’d seen, which David was surprised by – one he didn’t know about! There were other points, and all very entertaining, and the end came all too soon. But at least we had the pleasant prospect of a good evening’s entertainment.

Steve noticed the cameras first – I was oblivious. This show was being recorded (I assume the matinee had also been filmed) as part of the Open University program. We speculated on whether the DVD will be available – if so, don‘t stand between us and the shelves or you may get knocked down in the rush!

The performance started with a “previously, on Nicholas Nickleby”. The cast skimmed through the first half’s events in a wonderful way, introducing us to the characters again, and bringing us up to speed with the plot. It got a tremendous round of applause, and got the whole evening off to a great start.

The second part of this story is a bit quieter, although there isn’t as much suffering on view. (Philip described it as being in a minor key at the pre-show). Nicholas gets to meet the Cheeryble brothers, and their superb cheerfulness lights up this half. They’re wearing bright orange wigs, and when Nicholas meets their nephew, we realise straightaway who he is once he takes off his hat and reveals the same colour of hair.

Nicholas is back with his family, and all seems well, but Smike is poorly, and when Nicholas and Kate take him to see their childhood home, he’s so ill he dies. This was definitely an occasion for tears. Eventually, Uncle Ralph’s evil plans to make Nicholas suffer, and force an innocent girl into a disgusting marriage, come to nothing when Newman Noggs, overhearing the plan, takes matters into his own hands and saves the day. As Ralph Nickleby’s machinations collapse around him, he wanders the streets, trying to find some way out. This was well portrayed, and I felt much more the suffering that Ralph goes through before ending it all in the very bedroom Smike had lived in all those years ago. I felt there was a small chance that he could have changed things round, and become a better person, rather than seeing him as completely irredeemable, but it didn’t quite happen, sadly.

With Ralph and his plots out of the way, all the various couples are free to marry and enjoy life, with many of them going on to happier and happier lives. Dotheboys Hall is trashed, by the remaining “scholars”, and a most sombre note is struck by showing us that these boys have nowhere else to go. One lad is left, freezing in the winter weather, until Nicholas finally rescues him – another tearful moment, and one that will probably go down very well this Christmas.

All in all, I enjoyed this second romp through the Nickleby story. There was still plenty of humour, plenty of sentiment, and lots of energy from the cast. As the audience were pretty responsive, too, I hope they got some good footage for the OU.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

A Touch Of Danger – September 2007


By Francis Durbridge

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 19th September 2007

This was an enjoyable thriller, an average Francis Durbridge which was showing its age but still gave us some fun and a bit of a puzzle. The set was pretty standard. Windows centre back, with a desk in front, and the usual angled walls, with one doorway to our right, and two doors to our left. Bookcases, chairs, tables and assorted pictures gave us a suitable setting for an eighties flat belonging to an author, Max Telligan (Simon Ward). He writes novels, rather than crime thrillers.

First we met the secretary Liz, and the (separated) wife Harriet (Sandra Dickinson), who gave us the basic setup. Max and Harriet are living apart, their daughter is nearly eighteen and wanting to branch out on her own. The secretary’s only been with the author for a couple of years, and seems to be the sensible, straightforward type. The wife was a bag of nerves, and probably would be difficult to live with. The fun started when the daughter phoned up (was it only 20 years ago we had such cumbersome telephones?) to tell them she’s heard an announcement on the radio that Max has been found dead in a car just outside Munich, where he’d been staying for a few days. They’re trying to get more information when Max himself turns up, just returned from the airport. What is going on?

From here we go on a circuitous route through terrorist plots and secret service agents until the real villain was finally unmasked. I considered lots of possibilities as we went and I only just picked the right person before they were revealed to us. It was nice to see a piece that was elaborate enough to have lots of options. It did take a while to get going, as there was a lot of background to set up, but it still passed the time very well, and had some lovely funny lines, such as Digby’s response when Max complained that the villain had a gun – “That’s a risk we had to take”. (Digby (Neil Stacy) was the clean-up man.)

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Nicholas Nickleby part 1 – September 2007


By: Charles Dickens, adapted by David Edgar

Directed by: Jonathan Church and Philip Franks

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 18th September 2007

This was a completely different experience to last year’s performance. I suspect three factors were involved. One was that I had the headset, so could hear everything clearly, and in a play that uses words so well, that makes a big difference. Secondly, there were relatively few performances last year – only twenty of each, according to the post-show info – so the cast might not have got into full swing by the time we saw it. And thirdly, I was more familiar with the story, and could anticipate some things this time. For example, Smike’s line about following Nicholas to a “churchyard grave” got me sniffling straightaway tonight.

There was too much going on for me to note it all down, so I’ll have to keep the descriptions fairly general. The set was much the same as last year, though I gather there were changes, such as the spiral staircase that caused so many problems during the final scene of Romeo and Juliet (it had a tendency to hang on to swords, spades, etc.). There was an upper walkway with doors off, the staircase, a general space in the middle, a step up from the surrounding stage level, and various doors including the wide sliding doors at the back that the schoolboys come through at Dotheboys Hall. There was a general air of shabbiness, but that soon changed when the swells were on stage; both costume and lighting gave the stage a completely different feel. The costume changes must have been frantic, as even with four extra actors (post-show again), the number of characters was mind-boggling.

I was much more involved with the story from the start, and I enjoyed the energy of the chorus effect. In fact, I felt I could have done with even more of that at times, as the energy tended to drop a little when there were more straight scenes. I didn’t notice the recasting that much, as they all seemed to be working well together, and the story came across very much more clearly. I found the Dotheboys section almost too tough for me this time round. Even though the details weren’t particularly graphic, my emotional connection with it made me feel the depth of suffering so much more, and I had a few sniffles. In fact, I had a certain moistness of the eyes at various times through the performance, mostly caused by Smike, it must be said.

Of course, the sad parts made an excellent contrast with the funny bits, and I enjoyed these a lot more second time around. Bob Barrett was one actor I remembered well from last year, and I felt his Browdie, the bluff Yorkshireman, was even better this time. I loved the humour of the misunderstanding between Nicholas and Fanny, and Nicholas’s completely inept handling of the situation. I also enjoyed the initial scene between the Nicklebys, just up from the country, and Uncle Ralph, played this time by David Yelland, who got across his character’s complete distaste for any sort of personal relationship, especially with his family, and his total devotion to acquiring money.  There was a lot of humour in this, and I do hope the audience does some booing over the Christmas run in London.

But the best bit of a very good performance was the final scene, showing us the effect the Victorian sensibilities had on the plays of Shakespeare. The advantage of the extra actors was that the Chichester stage, so often a vast wilderness which the cast prowl around trying to fill, was increasingly crowded with every character from the play, including the hapless apothecary, as the dead came back to life and all was bliss and rapture. I must admit to thinking, for one tenuous moment, that the Victorians had a point. After all, Juliet’s potion wasn’t deadly, so why shouldn’t Romeo’s be a placebo? But the thought didn’t last for long, as all the corpses from the freshly skewered to the three days rotting, jumped up to join in the curtain calls. There had already been a number of mishaps – bottle in the wrong hand, no dagger for Juliet so she had to grab a pickaxe – so the final resurrections just fitted right in. It was also lovely to have the whole cast finish the evening with a rousing song, as the music had been so good throughout I’d actually wanted a bit more singing.

The post show nearly had more people on the stage than in the auditorium. I was even more impressed when Philip Franks told us they were busy working out how to adapt the production for a proscenium arch, so they obviously don’t have a lot of time to spare. The overall impression was of a company that’s working really well together, and nearly everyone contributed an answer to the questions. Philip and Jonathan worked really well together as co-directors, Philip in particular was singled out for major praise for his contribution in creating such a good team spirit (a willingness to walk over hot coals was mentioned). Details of the adaptation and the process of getting support for the tour etc. were covered, there was a feeling from last year that they hadn’t fully explored the production, and everyone was going on the tour plus London stint and trip to Canada (no glum faces that I could see). About half of the cast were new this year, and that had helped to bring extra energy into the mix.

The audience were very appreciative, and I got the impression that a number of people had found this year’s offering even better than last year. I have to agree, and now I’m seriously (if that’s the right word) looking forward to Part 2. Tissues at the ready!

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Love’s Labour’s Lost – September 2007


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Friday 14th September 2007

I was really worried after the opening scenes of this performance. I like this play, yet I was finding it incredibly dull, and wondering if I wanted to stay for the rest of it. The opening scene had raised some laughs from the groundlings, over facial expressions I couldn’t see, and Don Armado had just not found my funny bone. Then the women arrived, and the whole performance took off. Not my favourite production, perhaps, but still an enjoyable afternoon, give or take.

To get the problems out of the way – with more people at this performance, I found the seats more uncomfortable, with less room to move around. The headset was working, but apparently an alarm went off, causing several very loud beeps to come through my headphones, so I switched the headset off for a couple of minutes. The beeps had gone when I switched it back on, and there were no more problems there, thank goodness. Also, there seems to be something about the Globe this year – every time we’ve been there, at least one person has had to be helped out, suffering in some way. It could be the heat, I suppose, but even Steve was feeling funny today, and that’s not usual for him. Today’s walking wounded was a young man, and I found myself wondering if anyone was keeping statistics on the health problems experienced there. Which brings me to the final problem. At the first glimpse of sunshine, the stewards start passing sunhats round, which is fine when it’s before the performance, but when it’s already started, it can be quite a distraction. Together with all the other comings and goings, it took us a while to feel involved in this performance.

Now for the good bits. The set was lovely. Two “knot paths” led out from the stage in a zigzag pattern, creating a triangular section in front of the stage for groundlings to cluster in. The walkways were great for the actors to come out from the stage, and there were steps at the end of each walkway for easy access in both directions. Before the start, we were treated to some music, and a couple of deer in puppet form – they reminded us both of the Little Angel puppetry, though not so detailed. The stag came on first, and was curious about the musicians before checking out the audience. I thought some folk would have stroked its nose, but no one seemed inclined to try it. Then the doe came on, and they went through a lovely courtship routine, very well done. Eventually, they went off, and the play started.

Michelle Terry played an excellent Princess of France. Normally subordinate to Rosalind dramatically speaking, this one was definitely in charge. She did have a good sense of humour, but she could throw a real strop when she wanted to, which was fairly often. She really ticks off Boyet at the start, but she doesn’t hold a grudge, and when it comes to the bread fight, she’s geared up like a Gatling gun. The pigeons got even more bread today. I got more of the sense that she’s not impressed by the King of Navarre, and doesn’t respect him for breaking his vows so easily. She holds sway over the whole performance, and partly for that reason, the men this time seem rather flabby.

To be fair, one of the men was injured today, so that probably cramped their style a bit. On the other hand, he did make good use of his crutches, and his difficulties in hiding during the discovery scene added to the fun. He had to scuttle pretty quickly round the pillar, and at one point held his arms up and pretended to be a statue. I don’t know if that’s how he does it when his leg’s fine, but perhaps it will be now. Jaquenetta and Costard were less noticeable this time around, and I didn’t get the feeling of sympathy for Don Armado with his lack of a shirt. The schoolmaster and his crony were OK, the Worthies were OK, and the atmosphere changed suitably when the announcement of the French King’s death was made. The final challenges to the men were apt, although I don’t know how a Princess of her brainpower could really expect a king to live as a hermit for a whole year. Apart from his lack of purpose, there’s a state to run! I do wish we had the sequel.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

By Jeeves – September 2007


By: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by: Chris Jordan

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 12th September 2007

This was good fun. The premise was a church fund-raising event, put on by Bertie Wooster and some chums, at which Bertie is to be the star and demonstrate his banjo-playing skills. The set backed this up, being the inside of a church hall(?), with the band off to our left, entrances on our right, and a small stage at the back. In addition, several of the cast also sat in the auditorium to begin with, and only joined in the action on stage when things took a mysteriously strange turn.

Some miscreant had made off with Bertie’s banjo! Knowing the books, I suspect that Jeeves bribed some youngster in the vicinity to do the deed, as he’s known not to approve of his employer’s musical efforts. Anyway, Jeeves has sent for a replacement, from Kent, and there will be a two hour delay before it comes. In the meantime, Jeeves suggests that Bertie tells the assembled throng (for such we were) a story. With much prompting from Jeeves, Bertie takes us through the difficulties of the assorted engagements, courtships and burglaries (fake) that enlivened one weekend at Totleigh Towers.

It’s a typical Wodehouse story. There are numerous changes of name. Bertie, for example, goes by his own name, or Gussie Fink-Nottle, or Bingo Little, depending on circumstances. There’s the compulsory irate old geezer (Bassett, in this case), who’s got a down on Bertie, a bumptious American who threatens everything by falling for Madeleine Bassett, and of course the mandatory falling out between Bertie and Jeeves, resulting in a standoff which inevitably leads to Bertie’s complete capitulation as he finds himself totally unable to handle the twists and turns of the plot. Jeeves, as usual, contrives the perfect solution, demonstrating his amazing genius and almost Shakespearean understanding of human nature. And all before the banjo arrives!

Highlights include the fake burglary, with Bertie clambering up a ladder that changes direction halfway up (you had to be there), the maze that kept blocking Bertie’s attempts to get out of it, Bertie’s hat stand impersonation, and the way all the women kept falling for Bertie when all he wanted to do was get them safely paired up with the men who adored them. My favourite section was the car trip to Totleigh Towers, with Jeeves turning the car round to show changes of direction, and scenery and people passing by on the stage at the back.

The performances were very good. Robin Armstrong gave us a very agile Bertie Wooster. His singing and dancing were excellent, and the only sad thing was that we didn’t get to see if he was any good at playing the banjo, as the replacement, when it came, had some special strings that seemed silent to the person playing the instrument, but could be heard really clearly by the audience. Yes, this explanation was given by Jeeves, and yes, Bertie fell for it.

Jeffrey Holland played Jeeves, and had all the necessary presence, gravitas and imperturbability. As stage manager of the fund-raiser, he managed to cobble together some wonderful props at short notice – the car made out of boxes, the maze seat, the bed clothes – although the Wizard of Oz costumes at the end were a bit unusual. We also recognised Jon Trenchard, recently Bianca in Propeller’s Taming of the Shrew, and he did very well playing Bingo Little.

The music was OK, but nothing memorable, and the band were very good. I enjoyed myself well enough, but I wouldn’t necessarily see it again, as the humour is pretty well worn by now. Good production, though.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Holding Fire! – September 2007


By: Jack Shepherd

Directed by: Mark Rosenblatt

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Tuesday 11th September 2007

This play was about the Chartist movement in the early 19th century, another historical period I know little about, so again the play was interesting from a purely informative point of view. The idea was to show a personal story against the social upheaval of the times, the personal story in question being that of a poor girl from London who is given a job as scullery maid by a wealthy woman, but who ends up on the run with her potential lover after he kills the cook who’s been trying it on with her. As a story of ordinary folk, it’s perhaps a little lacking in ordinariness, but it was interesting and did bring out some of the social aspects of the time. However, the main weakness of the play was that the two threads never really intertwined satisfactorily until the very end, when the killer is hanged for the murder but refuses to give away any of his Chartist mates in order to have his sentence commuted to transportation.

I found it hard to hear all the dialogue today, but I did manage to get the gist of what was going on. There were several scenes which worked very well, particularly the rabble rousing by the Chartist speakers (there were enough people on the ground to create a good sized audience for them), and the one scene where the presence of a large cannon, primed and ready to fire, made the speaker back down from causing a riot. The soldiers were probably disappointed – they’d been straining at the leash to fire the thing for several minutes, but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

I also enjoyed the poor family conning money out of the rich woman on her expedition to help the less well off in society (father lies dying in his bed until the money’s handed over and the woman’s left, and then he’s up and off to spend it all having a good time – no wonder they’re poor) and the Convention scene, where several characters were dotted around the gallery, talking lumps out of each other and not getting on with the job in hand. A number of other scenes were enjoyable too as was the music, some of which we recognised, presumably from our folk music interests. I didn’t enjoy the prize fight bit, which was really an opportunity for two of the toffs to talk about the lower classes and the need to apply military strength to handle the situation. That was entertaining enough, but the fighting didn’t appeal.

The performances all seemed pretty good although with such a wide scope of events, there wasn’t as much detail as I would have liked for some of the characters. For example, Friedrich Engels, then a student, is in the pub scenes, which does allow for some of the arguments to be heard, but he isn’t involved so much in the rest, so his participation seems to peter out. Craig Gazey did another excellent job of bringing the murderous boot boy to life, with a lot of humour in his performance, and despite all the doubling there were a number of other little gems, but on the whole the production was a bit unfocused. A couple of people needed medical attention during the afternoon, which didn’t get in the way but was a bit distracting, and I hope they’re all well now. At the end, a couple of rolls had been left on the stage, on a back corner, and given the number of pigeons around the place it wasn’t long before they started attacking them. Sadly, I found that more interesting than watching the play, but then I’ve always been keen on feeding the birds.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

We, The People – September 2007


By: Eric Schlosser

Directed by: Charlotte Westenra

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Friday 7th September 2007

Sadly, this performance wasn’t well attended, so we were able to spread out, even with the folk from the upper circle coming down to join us. Despite the relative lack of atmosphere, the cast managed a pretty good job, although there weren’t many more people on the ground than on the stage. Even so, we gave them a warm reception, especially the musicians, who played some interesting instruments and sang some unusual songs. These were two West African griot musicians, whose music was intended to remind us of the many Africans enslaved in America, and their exclusion from the whole process of drafting the constitution.

The play itself covered the period from just before the convention that ended up creating the US constitution, to the signing of it, and ended with a round-up of what happened afterwards to the main characters. I didn’t know much about this, so I found it all interesting, though the play does lack a dramatic focus. There’s so much to cram in that the characters are drawn a bit skimpily, and it takes a while to get to know who’s who, and what their vested interests are. Once the convention gets underway (with a long series of adjournments), the action mainly alternates between the convention room and the room next door where refreshments are served. This room is on a platform in front of the stage, as the convention room (the main stage) is chock full of tables for all the delegates.

There’s a fair bit of humour throughout the play, mercifully, as otherwise it would be dry as dust. The performances were remarkably good, given that the dialogue is pretty limiting most of the time, and overall it felt like a drama documentary rather than a play. It was hard to care about the whole process, although the need for the constitution had been explained pretty clearly, and the issues these men were debating are vital and interesting ones. It might have been better to have avoided the convention itself, and kept the play to the external scenes, although as the people involved were sworn to secrecy that might have made for a difficult time. But given the sealed nature of the convention room, it might also have been more interesting to have been kept outside, hearing the issues debated, perhaps by some of the minor characters (“This is the hand…”), and only finding out what’s been agreed at the same time as they do. The delegations were obviously wheeling and dealing in the intermissions anyway, so if that were included as well we could have quite an interesting and entertaining three hours. Anyway, we got what we got, and I was happy enough with it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a text to take away, so I can’t pick up the few bits I missed, but that’s life.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at