Cyrano de Bergerac – May 2009


By Edmond Rostand, translated and adapted by Anthony Burgess

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 28th May 2009

Not as good as earlier productions we’ve seen, but still enjoyable. Joseph Fiennes was simply too good-looking, nose notwithstanding, to be a fully credible Cyrano, and although he delivered the lines well enough, his voice is a bit too lightweight to suggest a man of deep passion who loves a battle almost as much as he loves Roxanne. I was still moved by the usual suspects – the siege scene where the villain stays to help defend Roxanne, the final scene where Roxanne discovers much too late that her real love is dying in her arms (hope this laptop can handle moisture) – but not as much as I know I can be. Only one packet of tissues, then, instead of the usual three.

The set was OK, but it was all much of a muchness – wooden tables and benches, very rustic, appropriate enough for the Gascony cadets but this is Paris for goodness sake, apart from the siege, of course. The costumes were fine, and individual performances likewise. Just not my favourite production.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Time And The Conways – May 2009


By J B Priestley

Directed by Rupert Goold

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Wednesday 27th May 2009

As Steve was saying on the walk back to Waterloo, there are some dramatists you can adapt to your heart’s content, Shakespeare being the most obvious one, and others whose work is much more specific, and which doesn’t necessarily benefit from superfluous gimmickry or convoluted interpretations. Today’s offering was a case of the latter. Fortunately, despite the director ‘Goolding’ the lily with his usual filmic flourishes, the performance was enjoyable enough and the actors mostly did a fine job given the limitations of the production.

The opening sequence was one of those superfluous touches. The metal curtain opened to give us a viewing slit, and with a curtain drawn part way across we could only see a small section of the stage. One of the characters, Hazel, was carrying a suitcase full of clothes and apparently running across the stage (but actually staying on one spot) while some of the other characters moved past behind her, presumably as if they were standing still or just milling around. It wasn’t very effective from my angle, and the few lines were lost in all the hustle and bustle. Then she actually did run forward and off at the side, while the curtain was pulled back. This left us with a long narrow slit showing very little of the set, letterbox viewing gone mad. All I could see was the top of someone’s head, and nothing else for about a minute. Then the metal curtains opened fully and Hazel finally came bursting into the room with the suitcase. A long start, and not a particularly good one. Did the curtain not open when it was meant to? Was the delay intended for some meaningful reason? Or did the complicated opening delay the start because the stage crew had to clear stuff out of the way? I neither know nor care.

The first act unfolded pretty uneventfully, introducing us to the family, their situation (father dead, but family still well off and both sons home safe from the war) and the time period, just after WW1. (See, some writers do manage to tell us these things without too much trouble.) We also get to meet two friends of the family: Joan, a friend of Hazel’s with her beady eye fixed firmly on Robin, the younger son who’s just been demobbed and turns up towards the end of the act, and Gerald, the young lawyer who looks after the family’s legal affairs. Gerald has also brought along Earnest Beevers, an intense young man who would nowadays be called a stalker. He’s got it bad for Hazel, and puts up with the snobbish attitudes of most of the family in order to get to her. The only family member who’s nice to him is Carol, the youngest. There’s also Alan, the elder son who has seen action and is now working as a clerk for the local council, Madge, the eldest daughter who’s rather plain with a good mind and a passion for socialist ideals and reform, and Kay, the birthday girl, whose party we’re seeing. She wants to be a writer, though she hasn’t produced anything she’s happy with yet. And of course there’s Mrs Conway, family matriarch and temperamental diva, capable of great shows of loving and great cruelty, though we don’t see so much of that in this first act.

Everyone is having a wonderful time in that scatty upper middle class way – mercifully the charades are done off stage – and despite a few ominous comments, the tone is light-hearted and happy. With Mrs Conway singing for the guests as the final piece of entertainment (top of the bill, as usual) only Kay sits in the darkened drawing room, listening to the music and trying to get her thoughts and feelings down on paper. Suddenly she has one of her ‘turns’, and we get a freeze frame effect, with the actress, spotlit, on the central seat while the walls start to move and the room revolves, so that we see her from different angles. Then the lights go out. Visually, it’s quite a good effect, but it does have the disadvantage of disconnecting Kay from the older version in the next act. The ‘traditional’ version simply has her going over to the window and being in that same position at the start of the second act. This time, I don’t remember where she was in the room, so the placement clearly wasn’t as evocative for me.

The second act shows us the Conways twenty years on. Another war is looming and the slump after the last war has wiped out most of the value of the family’s assets, those which Mrs Conway hasn’t squandered on the profligate Robin, now unhappily married to Joan and avoiding her and their two kids as much as he can. Well, they’d get in the way of his drinking and complaining about how bad his luck has been. His mother looks as though she’s had a mild stroke, although it may just be bitterness that makes her mouth twist that way when she talks, and she appears to have a greater fondness for port than before.

Hazel has married Earnest, who is doing very well for himself and their family, but he doesn’t intend to help the Conways out with his hard earned cash. Hazel is clearly able to afford whatever she wants, is completely miserable and terrified of Earnest, although I didn’t see much reason for it in this production. Alan is still a clerk with the local council, and despite the contempt some of others have for him, he’s really the most successful and certainly the happiest of the Conways. Kay is a journalist for some paper which sends her out to get stories on film stars. She hasn’t written anything serious for years, and judging by this portrayal, she’s a dipso lesbian with a drug habit and a job in a very camp woman’s prison. Hattie Morahan’s facial grimaces made it hard to engage with this central character. She seemed like a caricature, and long before the comment was made on stage I wondered if the director was deliberately trying to turn this act into another family charade. If so, it didn’t work for me at all.

Hazel was also a bit over the top in this scene I felt, while Ma Conway can get away with anything, such is her character. The others were fine, but the overall effect was spoiled by the lack of balance and I found some bits dragging during this and the final act which never usually happens with a Priestley play, at least not for me.

The drawing room was appropriately empty-looking for this scene in the future. The signs of vanishing fortune were writ large on the bare walls and in the lack of furniture compared with Act 1. At the end of the second act, Kay is standing at the mirror, and again the walls move, but this time the mirror swings in at an angle, and we get a series of similar mirrors, suitably reduced in size, with other actresses dressed like Kay standing at them. There’s a nonsensical movement sequence that ripples down the line, and then the mantelpiece lights are switched off one by one to end the act – another puzzling and unnecessary interpolation.

The final act opens with Kay back in the freeze frame position. They’d cleverly arranged some papers so they could cascade onto the floor and stay there, in mid flight. When the action started up again, she pushed the papers all the way onto the floor, which looked quite effective. Next we get to see some of the events referred to in the second act, and some of the ways that some members of the family bring about the unhappiness of the future. We see how casually Mrs Conway ruins Madge’s best chance at a loving relationship, how Robin woos and wins Joan (not that she was resisting) and we get to see Carol again, the one missing from the second act and described by Earnest as the best of the lot. Kay starts up the kind of grimacing that explains a lot about her future facial expressions, as echoes of the future come back to her. She wants Alan to tell her the lines from William Blake that had given her some comfort in the future, but he doesn’t know them yet. Mrs Conway makes some comfortable and glorious predictions about the family members, accompanied by some more pointless choreographed movements from the girls, and then Kay slips through the curtains at the back with Alan following. Mrs Conway heads off to sing, and then things get really weird.

The lights go down, the curtain comes across, and then goes back again to reveal a smaller proscenium arch with curtains. It seems to represent the Conways’ bow window and curtains. Carol steps through and does a little dance to accompany her mother’s singing, then she goes off and the curtains are drawn back to show us a gauze screen which is used to project images of Alan and Kay, as well as having the actors themselves there, moving in such as way as to interact with their other selves. Lines from the play were repeated at this stage, presumably another attempt to be ‘meaningful’. However it was all pretty pointless and meaningless and was really turning me off, but finally it ended, the lights went out, and the whole performance came to an ignominious end. I held my applause till the actors were actually present on stage, as I didn’t feel the production deserved any reward. The cast had worked hard though, so I wanted to acknowledge them for that, and several performances were as good as they could be in the circumstances. Adrian Scarborough as Earnest and Faye Castelow as Carol were the best for me.

Looking back this evening, I find that writing these notes has reminded me how much was missing from this production. I wasn’t as emotionally engaged, the tweaks and twiddles didn’t add to my enjoyment or understanding and mostly took away from it, and I feel cheated somehow, as if the ‘real’ play is still waiting to come out. I’m glad the National have decided to embrace the dramatic tradition of this country once again, but I hope we get some better productions of these classic plays from them in the future.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Alphabetical Order – May 2009


By Michael Frayn

Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Venue: Hampstead Theatre

Date: Saturday 16th May 2009

A is for Actors. This was a decent bunch.

B is for….  Bugger, I hate these alphabetical lists. (And I even had a ready-made entry for W. Witches. How often does that happen?)

This was our first visit to the Hampstead Theatre. I’d seen it under construction for a number of years when visiting a friend in the area, but it’s taken a long time for us to take that final step and actually come here to see a play. I like the look of the place, the ladies’ loos are fine, there’s lemon sorbet on offer at the interval, and the auditorium feels snug and intimate. We joined the Friends scheme on the spot. The only down side to today’s trip was that our seats were right at the back in the mezzanine, row M, and I felt I was missing a lot through being so far from the stage, but we’ll know better when we book next time. And we also managed to make our first visit on the very Saturday the Jubilee line was completely closed!

The play itself is obviously dated, although it took a while for me to suss out the period. Given that it’s set in a local newspaper cuttings library, there would have been plenty of scope for the dialogue to have firmed this up, but it wasn’t to be. Likewise, in the second half, I wasn’t aware of how much time had passed since the first. Not essential, I know, but I felt the overall vagueness as to time had leaked into the production as well, making it less funny than it could have been. I had the feeling that I’d come in part way through, as there was a good deal of laughter in the early stages for no reason I could see. Perhaps I missed a reaction, or just didn’t get the joke. I then found I was laughing at some things pretty much on my own, so the audience was definitely not as one in the early stages.

The set was also pretty dominant, which may have affected my experience. The characters seemed quite small and mostly static against a set of bright blue (verging on turquoise) filing cabinets and cupboards, there were a couple of desks, a lift door with wrap-around stairs, various office accoutrements (kettle, coat stand, etc.) and a mass of papers and folders everywhere. The mess was transformed during the interval to leave the place spick and span. Food could have been eaten off the floor, had one so wished, and assuming Lesley (the tidy one) wasn’t there to stop it. In trays were clearly marked, removed folders had to be signed for, all trace of comfortable nooks and crannies for errant journalists to lurk in had been scrupulously removed, and only Lucy’s desk, now separated, even distanced from Lesley’s and with a marvellous view of a wall, retained that air of total disarray so familiar from the first half. It didn’t stay that way for long.

The first half shows us Lesley’s first hour in her new job as assistant to Lucy, the newspaper’s librarian. Lucy’s the scatty sort, arriving late because she spent half an hour trying to decide whether to buy a fur coat in a charity shop for five pounds. She did buy it, and then spends several minutes in the office trying to decide if it’s really her. Being nice to everyone and finding information in the mess that constitutes her filing system are her two main talents, so it’s no surprise when she invites Arnold, one of the journalists, round for supper. He’s an older bloke whose wife has gone into hospital, leaving him without protection from Nora, the features editor and a predatory widow who’s desperate for company. There’s a garrulous messenger called Geoffrey, the leader writer John, who has been in an on-off relationship with Lucy, and Wally, another journalist or editor who livens the place up by constantly pretending to be about to run off with Lucy.

All of the existing group get on reasonably well, allowing for the usual amount of bitching behind each others’ backs. Lesley on the other hand is the compulsive type, who doesn’t find the current employees as charming or as entertaining as they find themselves. Without staging an actual coup she still manages to take over the library, hence the massive change in the interval. Both Steve and I noticed some signs on the filing cabinets and cupboards in the second half, but we weren’t close enough to read them (no doubt they were instructions from Lesley).

This time it’s John and Lesley who are having the relationship. She wants to buy a house, he’s showing all the usual signs of dithering. Lucy is still there, and nominally in charge, but she’s clearly finding it hard to keep going. Eventually, the news comes that the paper is to close, and with Lesley not in the room, the rest of the cast indulge in a frenzy of clippings tossing. In no time at all, the floor is awash with news cuttings and I could really relate to the fun they were all having.

Then Lesley arrives, and handles the situation remarkably well, I thought. She did point out that there was a meeting to try and keep the paper going by means of a staff buy out, so in fact the cuttings will be needed again. The play finishes with Lucy starting to get the bits of paper back into order while the others have headed off to the meeting, a slightly down beat ending.

I would say this isn’t Michael Frayn’s best work, possibly because of his background in journalism, working for the Manchester Guardian and then the Observer for a number of years. He may have liked and appreciated the characters and story, but that doesn’t necessarily translate well to the stage. I have no complaints about the acting – Penelope Beaumont was a late substitution for Annette Badland, and did a fine job – but the piece was just too slight to really engage me. Even allowing for the way we were affected by our distance from the stage, I wouldn’t consider this one worth seeing again.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Parlour Song – May 2009


By Jez Butterworth

Directed by Ian Rickson

Venue: Alemida Theatre

Date: Saturday 9th May 2009

This was a perplexing piece; very well written language-wise, with three very good performances and a fascinating set, but I’m still not sure what it was about. Mind you, when a playwright gets away with describing cunnilingus as a good ice-breaker, the afternoon’s got to be enjoyable.

The set was basic black, with two quarter revolves facing the back to start. The sides of these sections formed a screen, and at the start this had a misty picture of a forest of tree trunks projected onto it, a bit like a Chekov setting. Lines from the play were also projected at the start of each scene, like titles, and there were other images to add to the atmosphere. The two quarter sets held a sitting room on the left and a dining room and bedroom on the right, although at the end, all the missing items appeared on the left side (couldn’t see the stuffed badger, though). Some scenes were played in front of the screen, and on one occasion the two bits of screen came forward to create a V shape, similar to the position the revolves took when they swung round. There were conifers in a hedge to each side of the stage, and what with the lighting effects and projected images, the whole production had a dreamlike, surreal quality.

The play is set during a long hot summer, with Ned (Toby Jones) blowing things up all over the country (he’s a demolition expert) and Joy (Amanda Drew) his wife ‘disappearing’ various objects from the house while seducing Dale (Andrew Lincoln) their neighbour and Ned’s close friend, this despite the fact that Dale is also married with kids. It becomes (fairly) clear that Joy is planning to run away from Ned, and  preferably with Dale, but he bottles it (this is when he finally thinks to mention the two kids who are so important to him!) and she ends up staying with Ned. Finally, the rain comes, and I’m left wondering, was that a one-off and all down to the heat, or is there more to the story? I misunderstood that Ned killing his wife was part of his dream, so I was a bit confused when she reappeared, especially as the body double they’d got for Amanda Drew fooled me completely. I mean, I know she’s a good actress, but two places at once? (It’s been a long week.)

The early scenes in particular were excellent. Dale did a lot of talking to the audience, then we’d get a little scene, and so on, and the dialogue and characterisation were spot on. There was a lot of humour too, with different parts of the audience reacting more strongly to certain lines – the people along our row really enjoyed the line about Kosovans – but it didn’t feel divisive in this performance. I loved the exchange about Falkirk, where Ned’s sure he hasn’t shown Dale his video of that demolition job, and Dale has to describe the whole thing in detail before Ned remembers.

The workout scenes were also good. Initially, Ned asks Dale to help him get a bit fitter, and so Dale takes him through an exercise session, during which Ned is telling this long-winded story about how he came to buy his new bride a heavy soapstone bird bath from his share of the fifty pounds he’d found blowing along the street. The story gets in the way of the exercising, and the ultimate point is that that morning, the bird bath had disappeared. Not something Ned could have misplaced, or misremembered. The story itself is quite good fun, but the humour of this bit is mainly in the way the lads work out, with Ned almost rupturing himself with the first exercise, and Dale looking like a complete poseur.

The second session is similar, in that the comedy is all physical. This time, it’s just Ned exercising in his own sitting room using weights, and then working up to the bar bell which is just a bit too heavy for him. His little jogs and puffing out his breath were good fun, and then when he did get the bar up over his head he couldn’t control it properly, so when Dale arrived he had to topple over towards the sofa to get out of the awkward position he’d got himself into. Great fun. There was also the look that Joy gives him over dinner where we can clearly see that she’s not enjoying their relationship at all, and the bit in the bedroom, when Ned is listening to a tape that Dale’s lent him about satisfying a woman sexually, was just hilarious. That’s when we get to hear about the ice-breaking effects of cunnilingus, and get to enjoy Ned practising his tongue wiggles.

There were a lot of scenes and I found I wasn’t fully engaged all the time, but overall the performances kept it going and made it worthwhile.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Factors Unforeseen – May 2009


By Michael Vinaver, translated by Catherine Crimp

Directed by Sam Walters

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 7th May 2009

Set: office blue carpet, white laminate table centre diagonal, three L-shaped low benches on three sides, each with white backing like a modesty screen, and a glass of water strategically placed underneath the top of the L (actors, for the use of). A few coats and jackets are hung by the cross entrances, otherwise the auditorium is bare, unusually so for this place.

The ‘play’ has no plot, nearly 30 characters, and a jumble of scenes which tell the story of a small French company being taken over by a big American multi-national, only to lose profitability due to unforeseen circumstances and end up as a small workers’ cooperative, ripe for another takeover. The circular nature of the story was commented on in the post-show, as was the topicality of the situation. Not only do we have companies going bust due to an economic downturn, but in this case the company’s problems were caused by televised interviews with an aristocrat dying of cancer – we’ve recently had similar public deaths from cancer in Jade Goody and also Farrah Fawcett. As the company makes sun tan products, the adverse publicity for sun worshipping was disastrous especially as they were just in the process of launching a major new product, Heavenly Body (from what I could gather, it was the same product in a different bottle – nothing new there, then). We get to see snippets of scenes from a lot of perspectives – the US company bosses, the French management team, the workers on the shop floor, including the union rep, and the dying Princess and her rather sycophantic interviewer. We also heard occasionally from the retailers who were concerned about taking on too much stock, and met an executive from Kronenburg at the airport.

The play began and ended with a narrator, giving us the background and then the resolution to the story. We were then into a whirlwind of management-speak as the managers discussed a promotion in a very disjointed way, and the piece pretty much carried on in that vein for the rest of the time. The three benches were occupied by three ‘couples’ – one was the Princess and her interviewer, another was the two American bosses, and the third was two women workers in the filling department. Twice during the performance they got up in unison and shifted position, presumably to alleviate numb bum syndrome, but otherwise they were pretty static. The two women did move around when the workers went on strike, and the central table was turned over for a while, but mainly it was the actors’ energy that kept things moving. They were so good at involving us in this fragmented plot that I even found myself looking for the TV screen when the managers were viewing the ads for the launch campaign, although I knew there was nothing there.

While I didn’t find the play hugely enjoyable, there was a lot to smile and even chuckle at. For example, I liked the two women at the airport, who half recognised each other and tried to connect with talk of briefcases and lighters and ‘weren’t you at such and such conference’. They also reflected the financial situation for their companies – now up, now down. I liked the way the workers went on spontaneous strike when they realised that management had led them into a downturn and the union rep found herself no longer in charge of their militancy. I liked little details like the reference to someone as ‘Sandra from Aerosols’, typical of the workplace, and the way the US men couldn’t pronounce the French names correctly. In the post-show, someone asked whether they could have transposed the play to England, but while that might have helped with the names, we would have lost that little touch.

All the performances were excellent – I can’t single out anyone from such a good ensemble – and I was tremendously impressed by both the actors’ hard work and their patience, especially those who had to sit on the benches for so long. So overall I kind of enjoyed myself and I would be willing to give this author’s work another go, though I won’t make it a priority. The layering of dialogue didn’t add anything extra for me and simply created an unnecessary distraction, particularly at the end when the final piece of narration was held up by frequent hubbubs of lines from the play. Another audience member commented on how the energy fell off at the end, and for me that was the reason – I liked the narration, didn’t like the hubbubs.

The post show had some of the usual questions about why this play, and about the translation, etc. Sam informed us that the translation was done by Martin Crimp’s daughter, currently doing post grad work at university, as Martin himself was too busy. I think she did a very good job, personally, as did the author apparently, after seeing her initial translations of some tricky passages selected by her father. There was also a question about the lack of punctuation in the text as mentioned in the program. Sam pointed out that we don’t use punctuation when we speak, pace Victor Borge, so not having it in the text made them all work a lot harder to discover what was actually going on.

I think the discussion relaxed and let its hair down a bit when one chap admitted he didn’t care for it much, which Sam had been expecting. I asked about the author’s intention regarding the humour. Sam reckoned both author and actors would be delighted if audiences laughed. Some of the actors chipped in as well; apparently we were a good audience, and they also find there’s not many gags as such but a lot to smile and chuckle over, a background rumble I think it was called. Someone raised the question of the playwright’s political leanings. A reviewer had commented on a passage supporting Communism in the second half, but Sam didn’t rate that idea, nor did most of us I reckon. In fact, I saw the commercial logic in the need to cut back when times are tough – if there’s no company, there’s no jobs at all – while Steve saw echoes of Dario Fo’s work in the surreal and absurd nature of the situation. I also felt the style was a lot like the Vaclav Havel plays we saw last year, especially Mountain Hotel.

An interesting piece, and well performed, though not entirely to my liking.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Dido, Queen Of Carthage – May 2009


By Christopher Marlowe

Directed by James MacDonald

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Wednesday 6th May 2009

This production was very good, the actors all did a fine job, and I have nothing against the set or costumes, although the initial scene with Jupiter was placed so high it was hard to see what the Gods were up to from our lowly position (‘twas ever thus). No, the only problem I had with this play was the tedious nature of the writing. That Marlowe could bore for England! Anyone who thinks he wrote Will’s stuff needs their head examined. No real characters, relatively little emotion (all the suffering was in the mind, and, towards the end, my backside) insufficient plot and not much humour, at least not in the text. There were a couple of funny moments with Iarbas, and some laughs with Cupid and the nurse, but all in all I don’t plan on seeing this one again.

Steve found it more enjoyable, mainly because he saw a dire production at the Globe last year which I wisely avoided, and he was so pleased to see a really decent production that he coped with it better than I did – he’d been immunised, as it were. Still, he only gives it 6/10, so once again we’re of similar minds on this one.

The story is simple. Leaving aside the godly machinations which I didn’t entirely follow, Aeneas and his followers, fleeing from defeated Troy, are tossed by a storm onto the coast of Carthage, which is in southern Libya if the dialogue is to be believed (it’s not just Will whose geography was as bad as mine, then). So there they were on the (northern) coast of Libya and they’re warmly received by Dido, who despite giving them succour is tactless enough to demand over dinner that Aeneas tells her court all the grisly details of what actually happened at Troy, and how it was defeated. This story, well told by Mark Bonnar as Aeneas, was one of the better bits of the play. I noticed that Dido, who had been so insistent on hearing the details at the start, was the first to ask him to stop once he got to the gory bits. He didn’t, so we got the horrors in full, although I did detect a hint of spin in his assertion that there were a thousand warriors in the wooden horse – just how big was this beast? Two hundred to two fifty warriors I’ll accept, a thousand is pushing it too far.

But anyway. The devious Venus, mother of Aeneas, is concerned for her son, and substitutes her other son Cupid for Aeneas’s boy, Ascanius. Given a small golden arrow, the tip of which Venus had used to prick her own breast, Cupid proceeds to make Dido fall madly in love with Aeneas to the discomfort of Iarbas, a neighbouring king (and something of a looker, too, with just the right amount of bulge in the muscles) who’s in love with Dido. Sadly, Dido’s sister Anna is in love with Iarbas, so it’s a bit of a love trapezium situation.

All of this is complicated by Aeneas’s destiny to found Rome, which explains why he speaks Latin at moments of extreme tension (though it doesn’t begin to explain Dido’s occasional use of the same language). After she tells him of her love (as they shelter in a cave from a ferocious storm thoughtfully provided by Juno) his first reaction is that he’s not worthy, then he vows undying devotion and to stay with her forever, then he gets a reminder of his mission and he and his men all head off to the ships only to be called back by Anna. Then Dido offers him her kingdom, he agrees to stay, she steals the ships’ sails and oars, he gets another message direct from Jupiter via Mercury telling him to shift his backside over to Italy, and Iarbas helps them to refit their ships so they can set sail.

Not that Aeneas wants to go, but he finally tears himself away leaving a lovesick Dido to grieve. Telling her sister that she wants to make a private sacrifice of everything that Aeneas has left behind, with Iarbas’s help she builds a pyre, and left on her own, pours oil over everything including herself. Seated cross-legged on the middle of the pile, she then strikes a match, and with the lights down, we get the sound effects of a raging fire coupled with the glow of the match for several seconds before the flame burns out. All that’s left is the discovery of her burnt remains by her sister and Iarbas, and their subsequent suicides, Iarbas with Aeneas’s sword, and Anna by hanging herself with Iarbas’s chest plate. Not a cheerful story then.

Apart from the fall of Troy story, I enjoyed the way Iarbas reacted when Dido had the disguised Cupid on her lap. Cupid was singing a song, and Dido and Anna were smiling at him, while Iarbas was having a good sulk. At one point, Anna exchanged looks with him, and he plastered a happy smile on his face just to appear sociable, but it was lovely to see the way the scowl returned once Anna looked away.

He had another lovely reaction later on when Aeneas and his men were wondering how to get away when Dido has made their ships unable to sail. Iarbas had earlier made a sacrifice to Jupiter (nothing bloody, just burned some powder), and prayed that Jupiter would intervene and remove Aeneas from the kingdom to give him a chance again with Dido. When Aeneas tells him that Jove has sent instructions that he’s to sail for Italy immediately, Iarbas lifts his eyes up and mouths silent thanks to the god for granting his prayer. Beautiful. Naturally, he’s only too happy to help out with the ships, thinking his luck’s in. Be careful what you wish for….

As already mentioned, the performances were fine. I liked Kyle McPhail’s Mercury, apparently suffering from narcolepsy, who only roused himself a couple of times – once to take a message to Aeneas, and the other when Jupiter pulled a feather out of his leg. Even so, he soon settled back to snooze, giving his ankle a gentle rub as he did so. Ganymede (Ryan Sampson) was also good, holding out for a Playstation, an iPod and some other stuff (or the Olympian equivalents) before he’d let lecherous Jupiter give him a proper ‘cuddle’. Siobhan Redmond made an excellent Venus, all wiggles and seduction, while Susan Engel’s Juno was the wronged and bitter wife to perfection. Their scene together, when Juno is about to kill the sleeping Ascanius, only to be thwarted by Venus, was good fun, and although they kissed and made up, I don’t think it will last.

A couple of other things to mention: apparently somebody was helped out during the first half, unwell. They were at the other end of our row, and the reason I didn’t notice it was because I was too concerned about someone stepping on the tomatoes which had spilled onto the floor after the feast. The floor was covered in bright blue rubber marbles, the tomatoes were bright red, and the actors were constantly walking in their vicinity. It was only a matter of time, but thankfully Alan David (Jupiter and Ilioneus) managed to rescue them first. Whew. I could finally concentrate on the play again – I think that was a good thing, on the whole. Still it was his first play, apparently, so I can safely say he got better with practice. Glad I’ve seen it, don’t plan on seeing it again.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at