Love’s Labour’s Lost – October 2008 (3)

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Hall

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Thursday 30th October 2008

Having recently seen the RSC production of this play, as well as the understudy performance to refresh our memories, I was concerned that I would not be able to set my prejudices aside and give this production the attention it deserved. I didn’t have to worry for long. Although this was almost a complete mirror image of the RSC version, I found myself enjoying it well before the end of the first scene.

The set was in complete contrast for a start. The whole width and depth of the stage was being used, and in a stark, simple way. The floor was all wood strips, there were metal balcony railings and two metal ladders, and there was a pair of wrought iron gates in the centre, between two pillars. Somewhat like those ranch gates they used to have in westerns – nothing for miles around, and a few poles forming a gate for visitors to ride through. Bizarre in that setting, but here it worked. There was also a reading desk to the right hand side of the stage.

When the king arrived with his three henchmen, I nearly giggled. The Elizabethan costume in the RSC production worked very well. Here, in this sparse environment, it looked a little silly. All the men wore black – more of a Jacobean influence, I think. The hats were also humorous, so I was finding it a bit difficult to give my all for the beginning section, though they carried it off well enough. In fact, I would say the clarity of speech in this production far exceeded that in the RSC’s version. Admittedly I had the benefit of seeing the play twice before today, and checking the text as I did these notes, so I was far more familiar with the dialogue than usual, but even so the lines came across very clearly here, and I got a lot more out of some of the relatively opaque sections.

The biggest contrast, and the one I want to get out of the way first, was between the Berownes. David Tennant is tall, agile, and very expressive with both his face and body. Finbar Lynch is short, tends not to move much if he can avoid it, and his range of facial expressions is not much greater than Mr Potato Face. (I mean this in a nice way, honest.) Both can deliver a line very well, though, and given the nature of this play, that’s just as well. So, while the RSC version goes for almost over the top physical manifestations of the text’s jokes, this production settles for getting the text across, and letting the audience do their bit. Both ways are fine (though the attentive reader will deduce my preferences from my ratings).

I think there was more of the text used in this production, though as I heard more of it I can’t be sure which were bits I just missed in the other performances. The staging was very straightforward, with the reading desk brought on and off as required, and benches and stools provided for the nobility to rest their legs. For such a big, empty space, they managed to fill it with people and action very well, and used it to the full. There were extra attendants, but they didn’t come on that often, so it was mainly the known characters.

Peter Bowles as Don Armado deserves a special mention for keeping his character within the bounds of reason and decency, and not using a ridiculous accent to get his laughs. That’s partly why I understood a lot more of his dialogue throughout. Jaquenetta’s “dish-clout” he actually receives from her when he’s telling her he’ll meet her in the lodge. Ella Smith has an embonpoint that could win gold medals, and when she teases an end of cloth out from between two fleshy mounds, what can the poor man do but take it gratefully and keep it next to his heart?

Moth was played by Kevin Trainor, an older actor than usual, but it helped with the delivery of his lines. He came across as a bit camp, but that may have been to indicate his youth, and the wit was very well conveyed. He had a good partner in Costard, played by Greg Haiste, who was all grins and lolloping cheerfulness. Nothing could get him down, and he worked a very nice double act with Moth at times.

Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel were different again. Both were cleanly dressed (this was a much more hygienic production all round), and the schoolmaster’s lewdness was not remarked on at all. His pedantry and stupidity came across beautifully, though, and I finally got the section where he complains about Don Armado’s pronunciation of certain words, getting them completely wrong himself. Like pronouncing the “b” in “debt”. William Chubb did this all wonderfully well, helped by Paul Bentall as Sir Nathaniel, the well-meaning but easily led curate. Peter Gordon as Dull was fine, and we all enjoyed his line about not understanding a word that had been said, even though I actually found I had understood most of it.

Rachel Pickup was lively and intelligent as the princess, and Susie Trayling was a fine Rosaline, with plenty of wit and common sense. Again, I understood much more of the banter and raillery amongst the Frenchwomen than I had before. At least one, Katherine (Sally Scott) knows how these games of love can damage the human heart –  her sister died from Cupid’s attentions. Boyet, played by Michael Mears, was good, though perhaps not my favourite of the current crop.

The king (Dan Fredenburgh) and his men were also fine; not as well differentiated as I’ve seen, but still enjoyable. The RSC’s version makes the men very immature, and so the women seem less grown up as a result. Here the men are simply being silly, but are still men worthy of being considered as suitors, so that the women seem more mature as well. The overall effect was of a more sophisticated version of the play, relying more on the language and characters to get the humour across, and they did it very well. I’m hopeful the Rose can keep up this sort of standard with its next productions.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Ivanov – October 2008

9/10

By Anton Chekov, English version by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Michael Grandage

Donmar in the West End

Wyndhams Theatre

Wednesday 29th October 2008

Wow. This was an amazing production of this play, the sort of production that makes you wonder why it isn’t done more often. The performances were all excellent, and the set design, costumes, etc made it all the more enjoyable. As far as we could see, the audience were definitely a more theatrical crowd than usual, including Joseph Millson and Niamh Cusack, but even so the coughing was a problem. Ah well.

The opening was visually striking, with Kenneth Branagh standing on his own, pacing about a sort of courtyard outside his house, looking miserable and depressed. He’s startled by the firing of a gun; Lorcan Cranitch as Borkin decides to cheer him up. Borkin is one of those Energiser Bunny types; he’s always got some scheme on the go, and it’s almost impossible to shut him up. Gradually we meet the people closest to Ivanov – his wife Anna Petrovna (Gina McKee), his uncle Shabelsky (Malcolm Sinclair) who happens to be a count, but doesn’t have any money to go with the title, and Lvov (Tom Hiddleston – Posthumus/Cloten in Cheek by Jowl’s Cymbeline), the doctor who’s attending Anna Petrovna and has diagnosed her condition as tuberculosis. Lvov is priggish and self-righteous, and very angry with Ivanov, believing him to be the main cause of his wife’s illness. Anna Petrovna is the loyal, understanding type, but even she’s being worn down by Ivanov’s apparently inexplicable behaviour. Shabelsky just wants to enjoy himself, without having to marry any of the rich widows that this area seems to have in abundance.

The second act shows us the other household that the play is concerned with. Zinaida (Sylvestra Le Touzel), her husband Lebedev (Kevin R McNally) and their daughter Sasha (Andrea Riseborough) seem to be the centre of attention. It’s Sasha’s birthday, and just about everyone has come to pay their respects. Zanaida wishes they would come to pay her what they owe her. She’s been left very rich (her husband has practically nothing), and she lives on the proceeds of moneylending. Not that she spends a kopeck more than she has to, mind you. When the guests go outside to watch some fireworks (courtesy of Borkin), she goes around the room snuffing out the candles. Ivanov owes her several thousand roubles and the interest is due, but he has nothing to pay her with, hence his trip over to see her to ask for more time. Lebedev is one of those poor husbands who finds himself without authority in his own home, which makes for some very entertaining moments. The “guests”, or hangers-on, are supplemented by another rich widow, Babakina (Lucy Briers), and Ivanov and Shabelsky who arrive with Borkin.

As the birthday party moves outside for the fireworks, various private conversations can go on inside. Borkin jokingly persuades Shabelsky to propose to Babakina, and then Sasha declares her love for Ivanov, which has to be one of the silliest things any Chekov heroine has done. Presumably she believes she can make his life wonderful again. Anyway, he’s about to accept her offer and starting to believe he can be happy again when Anna Petrovna arrives and sees them kissing. She faints. Interval.

The third act is set in Ivanov’s “office” on his estate. It’s a shambles, with painting equipment, a desk, lots of papers, and three men sitting drinking themselves silly. No Ivanov to be seen. Shabelsky, Borkin and Lebedev are chatting and drinking, and waiting for Ivanov. Lvov also turns up, and when Ivanov arrives, just about everyone is clamouring for his attention. He’s in a temper about Shabelsky’s drinking in the office (and the pickled cucumbers, etc), but listens to Lebedev first. Lebedev wants to lend Ivanov enough money to pay the interest he owes to Zinaida, but Ivanov refuses. Lvov then has his turn, and comes out with some ludicrous stuff. He’s so far gone in his arrogance that he can’t see much of what’s happening other than his own prejudices. He believes Ivanov wants his wife to die so he can marry Sasha and get her dowry. Neither man can stand the other, but my sympathies were (just) with Ivanov, as the doctor is almost freakish in his intolerance.

He leaves when he sees Sasha turn up, and then she and Ivanov have their little heart to heart. When Anna Petrovna does arrive, Sasha has gone, but that doesn’t stop them having a row. She’s finally realised that he doesn’t love her anymore (we could have told her that an hour ago), and he lashes out in return, not only calling her a Yid (she was Jewish but converted when she married him), but tells her outright that she’s a dead woman. That gets to her, and although he regrets it, there’s nothing more to be said. I found it wasn’t as shocking as some other moments I’ve seen, such as Freddie borrowing a shilling for the gas meter in The Deep Blue Sea, but it was climactic.

The final act is some time later, after Anna Petrovna has died, and Ivanov and Sasha are about to be married. It’s set in the Lebedev’s sitting room again, only this time the furniture has been cleared out, and there are some decorations (presumably the cheapest). There are various conversations that we get to see. Sasha is having some doubts, but her father talks to her and she’s resolved again. Shabelsky turns up, and before you know it, there are two, then three people having a good cry in the room, with only Lebedev unmoved. I loved it when Zanaida turns up crying as well. I could see that she was in tears at the thought of losing the money Ivanov owed her, as well as having to pay over more roubles for the dowry, rather than any concern for her daughter or emotional upset because there’s to be a wedding.

Ivanov arrives and does his best to persuade Sasha to give him up. She refuses, and after some more confrontations, including another interruption from the doctor, Ivanov takes his courage, and his revolver, into the next room and shoots himself.

Simply telling the story doesn’t begin to get across the impact of this production. With such strong performances, all the characters came to life, and the dialogue, which was modern yet seemed appropriate for the time, sparkled with wit. The character types that Chekov used throughout his career were all here, and I was struck by the way all the people, especially Ivanov, were suffering because of the community they lived in rather than the events of their lives or their personalities. It’s clear Chekov isn’t making any judgements of his characters, which is just as well given the behaviour of some of them. It was a tremendous performance, and possibly the best we’ll see of this play.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Enjoy – October 2008

8/10

By Alan Bennett

Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 27th October 2008

I have absolutely no idea how to categorise this play. It was certainly funny; we were amazed at some of the things we laughed at in this play, including a disabled chap with a plate in his head, the washing of a dead body, someone peeing through a letterbox, obvious poverty, etc. It was also very dark in places, and although there was a surreal air to the suited folk who took the house, and in fact the whole street, off to a museum situated in a park, complete with forgetful old woman, the line between realistic and surreal was so fine as to be almost invisible.

The set was the sitting room of an old back-to-back, with the door on the left, kitchen door next to it, and stairs next to that. It seemed ludicrously small in the vast space of the main stage, which added to the fun, and presumably made it easier to take it apart at the end. There was a folding table with two chairs to the left of the door, a sofa between kitchen and stairs, and to the right was the chair that Wilf, or Dad as he was mainly called, sat. He had been knocked down by a hit-and-run driver, so couldn’t walk very well and had a plate in his head. He kept his porn stash behind his cushion, and split his time between reminding Connie, or Mam, of whatever she’d forgotten, praising his daughter to the skies (a PA who was actually a whore), and bad mouthing everyone and everything else, especially the son he claimed he didn’t have, and who’d left them many years ago. Mam, played by Alison Steadman, could have lost a memory contest against a goldfish. I lost count of how many times Wilf had to remind her that Linda, their daughter, had gone to Sweden. The joke had a massive payoff though – when Linda arrived back unexpectedly, it turned out she’d actually gone to Swindon.

So far, it’s been a fairly recognisable picture of family life in those kind of houses, and in any period from the fifties onwards. The play was first produced in 1980, and we reckoned it represented the 1970s, but still seemed as if it had been written yesterday. The attitudes are so old-fashioned, but the references are to the 70s, and the feel is very up-to-date. Quite a remarkable achievement, and perhaps that’s why the play seems to be doing better today than it did when it was first produced.

A letter arrives from the council. They’ve been knocking down all the old houses and re-housing the occupants, but now they’ve realised that they’re wilfully destroying the evidence of a bygone age, and so they want to study the remaining inhabitants so they can preserve a record  for posterity, or some such reason. They want Mam and Dad to allow an observer into their house, a lady who won’t speak to them but will record what goes on. Mam decides to let her in, and it’s obvious the woman is actually a man in a grey skirt and jacket. (S)he takes a seat by the table, crosses her elegant long legs and stays completely silent throughout. Of course, Mam and Dad can’t avoid talking to her, and despite claiming to carry on as normal, their behaviour changes noticeably. The best china comes out for a cup of tea, for example, and Dad’s language improves dramatically. Mind you, it isn’t exactly a normal day they’re having, what with Linda coming back and announcing she’s off to Saudi Arabia to marry a sheikh, and Dad getting hit on the head by a local thug (who brings him his porn mags, but who also likes using the letterbox as a urinal). The thug hits him too hard on his metal plate, and Dad goes unconscious. When Mam returns from doing her shopping soon after (she forgot  she wanted a tin of salmon, so got some loo rolls instead), she thinks he might be dead, and gets one of the neighbours to help her deal with the body. Played by Carol Macready, this formidable lady informs Mam that if he is dead, they’ve only just missed him, and then they decide to wash the body, as the local undertakers is now a paving slab place. David Troughton, who played Dad, had to put up with two women groping him all over, taking his clothes off and putting him on the floor. No wonder Wilf gets an erection! It’s all very tastefully done, but the sight of the two women wondering if this reaction is normal with a dead body, while there are two observers sitting serenely, taking it all in (the neighbour brought her own observer), was utterly hilarious.

Eventually Mam decides that she’s had enough of the old ways, and that the Co-op can take care of it. They put Wilf back in his chair, and Mam checks on the “situation” from time to time. It’s about this time that Terry, their son, reveals himself. Of course we guessed who he was before this, and Connie makes it clear she recognised him as well, though her memory problems mean she doesn’t remember this a short while later. Linda comes back, in a temper, as she didn’t make the shortlist for the sheikh’s new wives. She brings another man with her, her latest client, I assume, and there’s a lovely touch when Mam assumes he’s another one of the observers, and comments on how chatty he is, not like the others. This time, Linda’s off to somewhere else, I forget where, and then Wilf revives. He’s only been unconscious after all. But now he finds he can’t move – the blow to his head must have paralysed him. Connie acts like he’s just making it up, or that it’s temporary, but we can see it’s real, and this is when the play gets really dark.

Terry explains that “they” want to take Connie and Wilf away from this place, and after reassuring them both many times that’s they’re not being put into a home, he tells them they’ll be living in the same house, but with a lot more comfort, in the museum in the park. Visitors will come round and see how bad things used to be in the old days. But Wilf  has to be taken to the hospital instead, as he needs to be taken care of, and he’s both terrified and frustrated that he won’t get into their promised new maisonette. As the suits remove the building, wheeling it off to the wings, Wilf is taken off in a wheelchair and Connie appears, dressed up to the nines, ready to go to her “new” home.  The play ends with each of the three main characters isolated in a spotlight, Wilf still in his wheelchair, telling us how their lives are now. Mam still thinks she’s in a home, Terry spends more time with Wilf, who seems to be reconciled to his situation. It’s a downbeat ending, but it works.

There were great performances all round, and some wonderfully observed dialogue, especially when Terry, alone for a moment or two, tells us what he sees in the house. It’s as if Alan Bennett was talking directly to us, and it’s understandable that the play could seem more autobiographical than it is. So a fine night out, then, even if I’ve no idea what type of play I was watching.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Waste – October 2008

5/10

By Harley Granville Barker

Directed by Sam West

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 25th October 2008

This was a bit of a waste, as it turned out. The talent was there, but the style of the piece just didn’t allow me to enjoy it as much as I had before, although the similarities with current events were abundantly clear.

To begin with, I forgot to get the remote for my hearing aids out, and so I missed some of the early dialogue which was just too quiet for me to catch. Having said that, even with my aids on full volume I still missed some of the later dialogue, either because the lines weren’t said clearly enough – the intonation or diction were a little sloppy – or because the set design meant that characters were addressing the far wall in order to speak to other characters, and didn’t project enough to fill even that small space. The amount of coughing was also a problem, and several lines were lost under that fusillade.

Even so I heard enough to get the gist of the story, though I didn’t remember the details from the earlier production we saw at the RSC. The opening scenes of each half were by far the best for us, especially the start of the second half, when the politicians gather to protect one of their own. The story concerns an independent MP, Henry Trebell, who has an affair with the wife of an Irish Catholic. When she gets pregnant by him, she decides to have an abortion, and that operation goes tragically wrong, resulting in her death. If the affair becomes public during the inquest, the bill which Trebell has been drafted into the Cabinet to spearhead, will fail. This bill is to disestablish the Church of England, and remove its connection to and influence on the British Parliament. So, lots of contentious issues there, and the play is even stronger because Trebell decides to kill himself once he loses his government appointment. The bill was his real baby; he comes across as a cold and pretty heartless person apart from his love of change, and especially change in this area. It’s not too surprising that the Lord Chamberlain refused to allow the original version onto the stage, and even this revised version had a long wait to appear in public.

The performances were mostly very good, clarity of speech aside, and my only real problem was in the portrayal of the two lovers. Trebell was too cold to be entirely believable as a man with carnal passions, and Amy O’Connell, the supposed lover, was a strange character, strong then weak, cynical then neurotic, so I could never make up my mind what was going on with her. With this weakness at the heart of the play, or rather this lack of a heart to the play, I found only the scenes with the politicians were really interesting, and the rest were tolerable. Hugh Ross as Cyril Horsham, the newly-elected Prime Minister, was excellent, as were all of his Cabinet, and I enjoyed Bruce Alexander as Gilbert Wedgecroft, a doctor who was closely connected to all these powerful people, and who could give us information on the abortion front, not that the word itself was bandied around much.

Finally, the set was an interesting design. There were three locations, and the design allowed for all of them. The opening scene was in a v-shaped drawing-room, with a door to our left, a corner of the room going back to some French windows, and a bookcase to our right. There was a piano and various chairs and sofas. With very little work, the central part of the set was rotated, and the “v” of the corner became another corner pointing outwards, making an “L” shaped office space. The door became a bookcase, the bookcase became a door, there was a desk and chairs, and voila, we are in Trebell’s office. The politicians gathered in a reprise of the first room, though now done up as a library, and then it’s back to the office for the final scenes. Very economical and effective.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Liberty – October 2008

5/10

By Glyn Maxwell, based on the novel by Anatole France

Directed by Guy Retallack

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 24th OCtober 2008

We enjoyed this a lot more than the critics, apparently, even though the audience numbers were sadly depleted. It’s a play about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, and although I knew a bit about it – guillotine, tricoteuses, new calendar, etc. – I wasn’t up to speed on most of the play’s content, which made it an interesting evening if nothing else.

The play is based on a novel by Anatole France, and uses six of his main characters who represent the different ways in which the French people were affected by, and responded to, the Revolution. One, Evariste Gamelin, is selected to become a magistrate, and we see him evolve from being an idealist who fervently believes in the promises of the Revolution to a fanatic who sends people to their death because that’s the only way for the Revolution to set people free. He’s a nutter, basically, but this play does show how people can become corrupted when they believe their cause is just.

He takes up with a pretty young embroidress, Elodie, and his brainwashing turns  her into a zombie, spouting Revolutionist slogans. She’s rescued by the end of the Terror, and returns to something like normality. Gamelin’s main friend is Philippe, a chap who’s happy to take advantage of the opportunities that abound when there’s a war, and who’s eventually arrested for profiteering. He actually manages to survive the Terror, but Gamelin is not so lucky. The magistrates are being informed against on a regular basis, and so despite his purity and dedication to the cause, he too is taken away and killed.

There’s also an actress friend of Philippe’s, called Rose Clebert, and she suffers through the shutting of the theatres and the banning of any “improper” plays. As she used to play aristocrats, she’s in danger of being seen as one of them, especially when she comes to the aid of Maurice, a former aristocrat who now lodges with Gamelin. She and Maurice were partners in a game the friends were all playing at the picnic which forms the opening scene. That scene doesn’t include the game itself, but it’s often referred to in later scenes. Maurice (a lovely performance by John Bett) opened the second half of the play with his puppets, and gets us all to join in while he gets ready for a puppet show. Rose comes along and they get talking, and it’s all good fun, with a lot of laughs and some audience participation. Then two citizen soldiers arrive and start throwing their weight around, and the whole scene becomes very unpleasant. They make Maurice shag one of his puppets, and Rose might be on the menu as well, but fortunately Gamelin comes along and sends the men packing. It’s only a temporary reprieve however, as both Rose and Maurice are arrested, with Maurice not surviving to the end. Losing him is tough for her, and she ends up reading his book instead of joining in the parties and fun that Philippe and Elodie are off to.

There’s one final character, played by Belinda Lang, who is Louise Rochemaure, a female wheeler-dealer who spends all her time hatching schemes and trying to get to know the people in power. Through Gamelin, whose appointment to the bench she has orchestrated, she gets to know Marat, and is just about to pull off a big coup when someone kills him in his bath, and she’s suddenly up in front of the courts and not doing very well from the sound of it. She also doesn’t survive.

I enjoyed a lot of this play, not least the performances and the humour. I thought the historical information was put into the dialogue very well, and there were only a couple of places where it seemed a bit like a lecture. I could relate to the characters pretty well, especially Maurice and Rose, and I liked the change from humour and fun to seriousness and menace in that opening to the second half. It took a while to get going, and although I could see why the author wanted to start with the picnic scene, I felt that it was too loose somehow to really engage me. Something seemed to be missing, though I couldn’t say what. The audience did its best to make up for lack of numbers, and I hope the cast were as happy with our performance this evening as we were with theirs.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Creditors – October 2008

7/10

By August Strindberg, in a new version by David Greig

Directed by Alan Rickman

Venue: Donmar Warehouse

Date: Thursday 23rd October 2008

I’ve only seen one Strindberg play before, at Chichester, and I was surprised on that occasion to find it more humorous than I’d expected. This play was similar in that respect, and also had the same darkness in all of the characters that appears to be typical of Strindberg’s work.

Three characters meet in the lounge of a Swedish hotel by the sea. There are three scenes, and each scene has two of the characters, so we get to see all of the relationships. At the end, all three are together for what is basically a final, short tableau.

The three people are Adolph, a painter who is unwell, Tekla, his wife who is also a writer, and Gustav, who appears to be a doctor. At first Gustav and Adolph are talking, and it’s clear that Gustav has had a very strong impact on Adolph in a short time. Tekla has been away – she’s expected back at any moment – and it’s the relationship between Adolph and Tekla that Gustav is working on, trying to get Adolph to stand up for himself and take back his manly “rights”, whatever they may be. As a result, Adolph doesn’t go down to the ferry to meet his wife, and when she arrives, all concerned for her husband, Gustav has taken himself off to the next room to overhear their conversation so that he can give Adolph some feedback later.

Husband and wife then have a conversation that shows us their relationship and how Adolph has changed towards her. There’s some frank talk about sex and lovers, and it’s clear they have, or had, a very playful relationship. Now that Adolph has been affected by what he’s heard from Gustav, including a very morbid and detailed description of an epileptic fit, he can’t relate to her in the same way. He wants them to leave that night, while she intends to stay to attend a soiree that evening. He leaves to take a walk in the fresh air and after a short time Gustav re-enters the room.

I’d realised by this time that Gustav had to be Tekla’s first husband, and indeed he was. He now shows his true darkness, as he pretends not to have known she was there. Despite their history, he still manages to seduce her enough to get her agreement to have an assignation with him that night after Adolph has left. She’s partly persuaded by a torn photo of her that Adolph left behind and which Gustav is using to good effect. She finally picks up on this because of something he said, and realises, too late, that she’s been had. As Gustav explains to her the way in which he’s corrupted Adolph as revenge for her betrayal, Adolph is revealed at the door. He’s been listening to their conversation, and now he’s succumbed to Gustav’s programming. He falls into the room suffering from his first epileptic fit, and the play ends with Tekla trying to help him and Gustav commenting that she really does love him.

This description doesn’t get across the lightness and humour in much of this play. Despite appearances, and all of the characters being unpleasant in their own way, I liked the gritty way in which Strindberg was examining these relationships. While I find these plays not as satisfying as those which include the light with the dark – Strindberg really isn’t interested in anything “good” about his characters or people in general from what I’ve seen – I find he makes some good observations about men and women, and introduces some interesting ideas. I was struck once again by how much energy for change there was in Scandinavia at that time. This comes out in Ibsen’s work as well. There were also some comments about how we pick up habits from those around us, especially those we are close to, and how difficult it is to tell who has influenced us and how much.

But the main pleasure for me was the performances. Owen Teale as Gustav conveyed just the right amount of malice concealed behind a well-intentioned exterior. I could see why Tekla had left him in the first place. He wanted to control everything and couldn’t stand to let her get away. Anna Chancellor as Tekla was superb, showing us all the intelligence, passion and vulnerability of this modern woman. And Tom Burke as Adolph gave us a believable victim, despite the increasingly absurd and extreme pronouncements of Gustav. He was like a rabbit in the headlights, transfixed and unable to move. A really good production all round.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Don’t Look Now – October 2008

5/10

By Daphne Du Maurier, adapted by Nell Leyshon

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 22nd October 2008

This was slightly disappointing. The play was based on both the original novel and the film with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, which I haven’t seen but Steve has. The story is set in and around Venice.

The set design was a bit boring, even allowing for the fact that this is a touring production. There were lots of walls, arches and balconies, all in washed-out colours. There were a lot of furnishings to be taken on and off between scenes, but as this was done fairly briskly I didn’t find it a problem. In general though, I felt there was very little sense of atmosphere. I suspect the lighting was partly at fault, as it seemed very flat most of the time.

The play started with a young couple sitting at an outdoor table on one of the Venetian islands. Their young daughter, Christina, died a short time ago, and their trip to Venice is an attempt to get over their grief. Their son is back in England, at school. They spot a couple of older women watching them, and make up backgrounds for them – jewel thieves, murderers, that sort of thing. One of the women talks to the wife during a trip to the loo, and this triggers an emotional change in her which disturbs the husband.

The older woman who has spoken to the wife has told her that the other older woman, her sister, is blind, but has developed an ability to see visions. She saw their daughter at their table, and this makes the wife very happy. From being unwilling to let her husband touch her, she changes so much she has sex with him that afternoon. He, on the other hand, thinks the sisters are just conning them, and becomes absurdly insistent that his wife has been taken in by a load of old rubbish.

It’s absurd because his emotions seem out of place in the circumstances. He also takes to seeing what may be their daughter, dressed in the red cloak she used to wear. The sense of foreboding increases when they get a call from England, to tell them their son is in hospital, and needs an urgent operation to remove his appendix. The wife flies back at once, but despite a warning from the two sisters that they should both leave Venice immediately, the husband stays on, planning to pick up their car and drive back.

The next day, he sees his wife with the two sisters, and instigates a police hunt for her, believing that the sisters have lured her back somehow. Then he manages to talk with her by phone, and is greatly relieved to find she’s in England, and their son is well after his operation. The police aren’t too happy when he tells them they were on a wild goose chase, though. They’re trying to track down a murderer who’s killing tourists, and didn’t need to be wasting their valuable time on something else.

The husband goes out for  a final stroll, and sees the small figure in the red cloak again. He follows it, and it turns out the tourist killer is a midget, dressed in a red cloak, and so the husband ends up dead. The final scene shows us the wife returning to Venice to collect her husband’s body and being supported by the two sisters, who tell her that her husband must have had a vision of this moment when he thought he saw his wife earlier.

It’s a simple enough story, and reasonably well told, but again the lack of atmosphere made it less gripping. The performances were fine, apart from the chief of police, who seemed determined to avoid speaking clearly throughout the whole evening. This, coupled with an Italian accent (I assume; I didn’t hear him well enough), meant that I lost most of his dialogue, and so the information about the tourist killer was lost on me until close to the end. Other than that, this was  a watchable production, but not an inspired one.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me