Sweet William – October 2007


By: Michael Pennington, with lots of input from William Shakespeare

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Friday 12th October 2007

This was the second time we’ve seen this one-man show, and we were delighted to find that the material did change from the earlier performance (29 June 2007). We also like the Minerva Theatre, very much, so it was nice to see this in a different setting.

The first half was much the same, and I did find myself nodding a little during it, but I became a lot more alert for the second half, and really enjoyed another romp through the life and times of Will, the master playwright. There was an acknowledgement of the ESC’s time at Chichester with the Wars of the Roses, which we saw, and several of the speeches were different. I’m always impressed by Michael Pennington’s ability to shift into the role that’s speaking, without any changes of lighting, costume, etc. It all comes across clearly, and we’ll be happy to see this show again in the future.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Whipping It Up – October 2007


By: Steve Thompson

Directed by: Terry Johnson

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Thursday 11th October 2007

This was a bit disappointing. After the show, Steve described it as stilted, while I preferred lacklustre. The actors did their best, and perhaps the length of time they’ve been doing it was beginning to show, or perhaps the lack of a full house affected them. Any which way, this wasn’t the best piece of political writing I’ve seen, not by a long chalk.

The set was a rather drab office space – the office of the deputy chief whip. I did like the mugshots on the back wall, with the word “backbenchers” struck out and “peasants” substituted. Otherwise it was rather odd for a stage set, as the large armchair centre front tended to block the view of the action most of the time. The lighting was also strange. Not because it varied as much as it did, but that it was so flat. I almost felt I was watching a TV show being shot.

For those of us brought up on political satire and comedy since TW3, some of the jokes were very green – recycled several times. There was also a lot of explanation of the whip’s purpose and power, which I can understand being necessary for the new folk, but for the rest of us made it seem very clunky. The second half was better, once that was all out of the way, and there was a lot more humour to be had. I noticed how much easier it is to laugh at crudities like “shit” and “tosser” when they’re said on stage. This strength of language has been long outdated on TV, yet the experience is different when I’m not sitting in private in front of the telly.

Despite all this, we did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit, and the lines were delivered very well by a cast who deserve better than this.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Terms Of Endearment – October 2007


By: Dan Gordon, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry and the screenplay by James L Brooks

Directed by: David Taylor

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 8th October 2007

This stage adaptation is apparently different from the film, though it borrows at least one of the film’s conflations – that of the character Garrett Breedlove (what a name!). Not having read the book nor seen the movie, I had very little idea of what to expect, other than some tear jerking moments. For someone who likes a good sob on a regular basis, and who is often known to indulge, I found my eyes only became moist at the ending of this play, though as I did have a few laughs along the way, I still enjoyed myself well enough.

The plot. Mother and daughter disagree over daughter’s choice of husband, then come together over daughter’s illness and death. During all this, mother rediscovers sex. That’s about it.

The set had two platforms to the rear, and space at the front of the stage with doors either side. Mostly, these spaces stayed the same, but there were changes for the hospital scenes and after the initial scene with the daughter smoking pot with her best friend in the bathroom. Theatre of burglary was well to the fore again, and we were also treated to the ludicrous sight of a long black pole sliding a seat and table onto the stage from one of the forward doorways.

The performances varied. John Bowe was excellent as Garrett Breedlove, giving the most rounded performance of the cast, and making the most of what was one of the better parts, if not the best. He certainly made it look that way. The best scene of all was his almost casual threatening of the oncologist supposedly looking after the daughter, but he boosted the energy every time he appeared. I particularly liked his expression when he almost gets away without commenting on the mother’s “I love you”. Linda Gray as Aurora, the mother, still has a good body, if the parts showing through the diaphanous nightgown are anything to go by. Her acting range doesn’t appear to extend to depth of characterisation, nor to subtlety of performance, but she made up for it by semaphoring wildly and rapidly during the opening scenes, and with the range of her grimaces, most of which we saw during the first half. This was all tempered after the interval – it’s amazing what a good orgasm can do for a woman – and she made it to the end OK. The daughter, the other main part, was OK, but I felt it was seriously underwritten. The final deathbed scene was moving, though I think I had been more affected by Garrett’s concern for the daughter than anything else.

Not a play I would choose to see again, but not a complete loss of an evening, either, thanks to Mr Bowe.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

All About My Mother – October 2007


By: Samuel Adamson, based on the film by Pedro Almodóvar

Directed by: Tom Cairns

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 3rd October 2007

This was a very moving experience. I haven’t seen any of Almodóvar’s movies, and so didn’t know what to expect. I found the start a little jerky, but as we got to know the characters I was drawn into their stories, and felt very emotional at the end. I wept buckets, of course, so it was fine.

The main character is a mother (Manuela) who loses her son (Esteban) early on in the story. Esteban also acts as narrator, so we have a lovely sense of ambiguity throughout – is this just a story he’s writing, or is it actually happening? He wants to get a famous actress’s autograph, and as she rushes away from him, he follows her out into the road and is knocked down, dying later in hospital. Manuela then tries to find her husband, the boy’s father, about whom Esteban knew nothing at all, and we find out the father is a transvestite prostitute – dick and boobs – who’s run off, leaving another woman, a nun (Rosa), both pregnant and HIV positive. A cheerful story then.

Actually, there’s a lot of humour, mainly from Agrado (Mark Gatiss), another transvestite hooker, who talks directly to the audience several times. Agrado’s a friend of Manuela and Lola, the father of Esteban (do keep up).

With Lola gone, Manuela visits the actress, Huma (Diana Rigg), and gets involved with her life, including her partner, a junkie lesbian actress who’s also in A Streetcar Named Desire, the play Esteban saw with his mother on the night of his death. Various complications lead us to the point where Rosa’s mother is at last involved with her daughter enough to be present when the baby is born and Rosa herself dies. As Lola was the father of both boys (this second son is also named Esteban), Manuela is closely involved with looking after him. Finally, Lola turns up, and as he’s dying too, it’s a emotional moment when he gets to see at least one of the sons he fathered.

The final scene has five women (I include Agrado) sitting in a semicircle, after Lola’s funeral, with the baby. Rosa’s mother (Eleanor Bron) asks Huma for a speech from Lorca’s Blood Wedding, the next play she’s doing. After refusing, she’s persuaded to do it, and the lines were very moving, and very appropriate.

There’s an amazing sense of life in this play, for all it has so much to do with death. There’s the narration by a dead man, the way the scenery was moved on and off, sometimes dropping down, sometimes sliding on. All of this gave the production a dream-like quality. The scenes were very focused on the essentials, very spare, but still we got to know the characters very well in a short time, and to feel for them. There was a huge sense of acceptance, as most of the characters were on the fringes of society, and although Rosa’s mother was unaccepting at first, even that began to change. (It didn’t help that Manuela (Lesley Manville) was dressed up like a tart when she first meets her.) I felt more affected by the story than I expected, and glad to have seen this. I suspect there will be a lot more thoughts coming up over the next few weeks, as I sense some of this play went deep. I shall enjoy watching the experience unfold even more. A very good play, and, I trust, a good adaptation.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

How The Other Half Loves – October 2007


By: Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by: Alan Strachan

Company: Peter Hall Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 1st October 2007

We hadn’t seen this play for many years, but we had enjoyed it before, and were looking forward to seeing it again. The plot is simple. Bob, who works for Frank, is having an affair with Frank’s wife, Fiona. When Bob’s wife, Teresa, demands to know where Bob was till 3 a.m. last night, he uses another work colleague, William, as an excuse. He claimed William is upset because his wife, Mary, is having a (fictitious) affair. Bob mentions this to Fiona during a surreptitious call, and she also uses this excuse to Frank when he quizzes her, only for her it’s Mary she was giving support to. When William and Mary turn up to dinner at Frank and Fiona’s one night, and Bob and Teresa’s the next, mayhem ensues.

This was a very enjoyable production. I felt the set wasn’t as clearly defined as we’ve seen before, but good enough, and the intermingling of the characters’ actions was still amazing, and very funny. I’d forgotten how the guests arrive at the combined dinner parties, each coming in one door or the other, and of course the swivelling chairs are a highlight. I liked all the performances, although Amanda Royle as Mary probably stood out just a bit from the rest – it’s always fun when the worm turns, and of all the characters, she’s the least repulsive. Marsha Fitzalan as Fiona gets about as many costume changes as the entire cast of Nicholas Nickleby, and Nicholas le Provost as Frank was wonderfully well-meaning and dangerously destructive at the same time. Good fun.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me