A Doll’s House – June 2009

6/10

Originally by Henrik Ibsen, in a new version by Zinnie Harris

Directed by Kfir Yefet

Venue: Donmar Warehouse

Date:  Thursday 25th June 2009

This is a tricky production to evaluate, with so much having been changed from the original. First, there is the change in setting from Victorian Oslo to Edwardian London, and the area of life from banking to politics. Then the language is also seriously changed; not just translated from Norwegian to English, but to relatively modern English as well, making the dialogue seem both anachronistic and much more aggressive. The characters don’t draw us into their lives by their restraint so much as fling words at each other, like guests on some bizarre Edwardian Jerry Springer show. This change of style lessened the impact of the emotional discoveries and changes for me, and left me feeling slightly disappointed. There was a good deal more humour as a result, which is rarely a bad thing, and but for the childish reactions of a number of the youngsters in the audience, the amount of physical sexual activity might have had more of an impact, so my sense of disappointment wasn’t just with the play.

Then there was the style of performance, which was cruder than I would have liked, although powerful in the final scene between Thomas and Nora. The actors all did a fine job with this style of production, despite occasional bouts of shouting for no apparent reason, so I will have to put any lack of subtlety in the performance down entirely to the director. Both Steve and I felt that the part of Doctor Rank was underwritten, though ably played by Anton Lesser, and my overall impression was of a ‘dumbing down’ of the play for a modern audience. It was still good, but not as good as the ‘real’ thing, and it’s hard to avoid the big question in all of this – why bother?

The set was magnificent, with a wide curved back wall completely filled with book shelves, a Christmas tree to our left waiting to be adorned, lots of packing crates and boxes everywhere, and a beautiful parquet floor. Overhead there was a large oval hole with a railing around it, suggesting a pretty impressive house, and a ballroom above the library. The costumes were all perfectly in keeping, which made the strangeness of the dialogue all the more noticeable.

Both children were on stage today, and this version certainly made it clear, through Gillian Anderson’s excellent acting, how totally she believes herself to be an unfit mother after Thomas’s scathing condemnation of Kelman’s influence on his children. The scene between Kelman and Christine Lyle, Nora’s old friend, declaring their long-held love for each other, was good, and funnier than it had any right to be, and it was interesting to see Tara Fitzgerald as the friend after seeing her play Nora a number of years ago.

It was an enjoyable afternoon, and I can’t help feeling that, with a bit of rewriting and more sensitive direction, this could be a reasonably good version of a classic play.

P.S.    Having slept on it, I’ve had some more thoughts about this version. I realised that times have moved on, and in some ways the original isn’t as challenging and provocative as it once was, but I couldn’t see the new ideas and challenges which were being presented in this version. I didn’t see any fresh take on the situation, and I did see a number of things that weakened the main thrust of the piece, namely the moral difficulties caused by the inflexibility of the social mores and legal position of women at that time. Firstly, with the more modern style of language, Nora’s choice to leave her husband at the end seems the sensible choice, rather than a huge leap into the unknown with no chance of support from society and every chance of extreme hardship for someone who has been relatively cosseted all her life. Secondly, the portrayal of Kelman (Christopher Eccleston) removed the possibility of him being a good man forced by circumstances to commit some dodgy dealings to make ends meet. He makes it clear that he did the things he’s accused of, and while it can be a good thing that he makes no excuses for that, it does throw Christine into a morally ambiguous light for choosing to be with him regardless. Is she just a woman who’s fallen for a ‘bad’ man, or is she really able to see the goodness in him and possibly bring that back out?

Kelman’s moral choices are also the template for Nora’s. He has the money to lend her because of what he’s done, and it’s Thomas’s absolute condemnation of Kelman’s actions, with Nora knowing that she’s done the same thing, that sets up much of the tension of the final act, much of which was missing in this production. So if Kelman is definitely dishonest, a popular choice in the current climate, where does that leave Nora? Can we excuse her innocence and choices if Kelman’s are to be condemned? Is it one law for the women and another for the men? And then the penny dropped.

It is the moral ambiguity that comes to the fore in this production. How do we evaluate the choices made by Kelman and Nora, and do we deal with the actions solely on the basis of their illegality, or do we make distinctions between them based on the intentions and results? This may not have been the adaptor’s intention, of course, but it’s a view I’m willing to accept as valid for this piece. It certainly supports Ibsen’s view that women are judged by men’s standards, which is still true today.

However, I still feel the ambiguity in setting is a hindrance. The Edwardian aspect makes it easier to get away with such a clear demonstration of the oppression of women (Thomas’s comment about owning his wife got an audible reaction from the audience) while the modern language lessens the impact, although it probably helps the younger audience members understand it better. So perhaps my final comment above still applies, though without the need for rewriting.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Winter’s Tale – June 2009 (3)

10/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sam Mendes

Company: Old Vic Bridge Project

Venue: Old Vic

Date: Wednesday 24th June 2009

This was a superb production, played on a thrust version of the Old Vic stage that was eerily reminiscent of the old RST. The set was plain, with a large square platform slightly raised above the rest of the stage and positioned well to the front, though with enough space for the actors to walk in front of it. The back and side walls were all done in floorboard style, as was the platform. For the opening scene, the platform held a child’s bed, complete with teddy bear, on the left hand side, some cushions with a bottle in the middle, and on the right a table and chairs, a fairly plain wooden set that could be found in many a kitchen today. I could only make out a chess set laid out for a new game, plus some glasses. There were many lamps hanging down at different levels towards the back, together with lots of candles on stands, and two large swings did duty as shelves for another swathe of candle lamps.

The platform was cleared quickly once it was no longer needed, and various tables and chairs were brought on as required. The candle lamps were blown out early on, while the lamps and candle stands kept going till we left Sicilia. That change was done rather well, I thought. The attendants lined up along the back wall, in relative gloom, and first the men, then  the women, blew out the nearest candle simultaneously, while the hanging lamps were gradually drawn up, as were the swings. This left the stage nicely bare for the Bohemia scenes, with the back wall lifting up to show us sky and clouds. The sheep shearing feast (and what idiots would shear their sheep in the autumn?) was a riot of balloons in red white and blue, while the return to Sicilia was given a wonderful mourning effect by the bare stage and just one long bench. For the statue scene, a small plinth was placed at the front of the platform, with an arc of chairs facing it and us. The bear, incidentally, was a ‘real’ bear rather than the paperback version, and did the job nicely. Costumes were some period or other, probably nineteenth century but don’t quote me, and I thought they worked very well; neither as austere nor as bucolic as the current RSC version.

So to the staging. Instead of the usual chit chat between Camillo and Archidamus, Mamillius came to the front of the stage, sat on the platform and using ‘his’ teddy bear, gave us the lines from a later scene about a sad tale being best for winter. I say ‘his’ because Mamillius was doubled with Perdita, both being played by Morven Christie, a doubling that we’ve seen before and which works very well. After this, we got the first line from Leontes, sitting on the bed with his pregnant wife beside him on the floor. Polixenes was sitting by the table, but moved over to recline on the cushions, where Hermione joined him as part of her persuasion strategy. Leontes had to help her up at first, but she was soon down again and lolling against Polixenes in a way that could be seen as overly friendly, if you’re half blind and inclined to think the worst of people. Leontes obviously falls into that category, but his suffering and his madness were clear to see. There was good use of lighting in this production, with asides spotlit and the background action either highlighted or dimmed.

After the initial part of this scene, Camillo and Archidamus had left, so there’s a much greater sense of the intimacy of this group at this point. With Hermione and Polixenes chivvied off stage, Leontes at first told his son to go and play, but then took him over to the bed, and with much tenderness caressed and kissed him. It’s here, in Mamillius’s bedroom where Leontes suborned Camillo to kill Polixenes. When Leontes started to shout at Camillo, Mamillius woke up, and had to be reassured back to sleep. Later, when Polixenes arrived, it was noticeable how quiet he was so as not to wake the sleeping prince.

We then got the scene of Hermione’s arrest. At first, all was going well, with Mamillius drawing or painting at the table, and bantering a little with the two waiting women. Hermione was on the bed, and then Leontes came in with a few courtiers and all hell broke loose. Mamillius was clearly upset and was taken away, while Hermione seemed unbelieving at first. Her attempt to reconnect with the man she knows and loves so well was touching to see, and spoke volumes about the closeness of their relationship previously. The impact of her being accused publicly was also apparent, having been set up by the earlier lack of courtiers. When she was taken off, the platform was cleared for Paulina’s entrance.

She arrived with a couple of suitcases (hers, or intended for Hermione, I wondered?) and the chat with Emilia was as usual. The next scene had Leontes, wrapped in a blanket, coming down to the front of the stage, clearly tortured by the situation. Polixenes and Hermione stood on either side of the stage at the front, motionless, the objects of his jealousy and hate.

When an attendant arrived to tell him about Mamillius, he actually brought the boy on stage in a wheelchair, looking very listless. I think he was wheeled off before Paulina comes on, but I’m not sure. Anyway, she did come on, wrapped in a shawl to disguise the bulky parcel she’s carrying. Not the most ferocious Paulina, perhaps, but certainly with plenty of authority, and the men were definitely not taking any chances with her. The comedy in this scene came across well, and Leontes was almost moved to compassion when he went over to pick up the little baby whom Paulina had left on a chair. This was the cuddliest Leontes I’ve ever seen, showing physical affection both for Mamillius and the baby, though sadly the outcome was the same. He sent Antigonus away with the baby, and then came the news that the oracle’s judgement has arrived. Leontes divested himself of his blanket and put on his jacket while the set was prepared for the trial scene, and in the meantime Cleomenes and Dion sit at the front of the stage talking about the wonders of their trip to Delphi.

Once they’d gone, the trial could begin. There was now a long table across the stage with three chairs, and there were four chairs to the left side of the platform where Hermione’s ladies sat after helping her on. She sat to the left and Leontes to the right of the table, with one of the other courtiers sitting in the middle as judge. He looked like he’d rather not have the job, to be honest, and there was a hint of trembling in his hand as he held the indictment and read it out. Hermione was in a drab shift, not fully recovered from childbirth though without the blood stains that often accompany this scene. She held her own pretty well, reading the first part of her speech from a tatty scrap of paper, while Leontes seemed fatigued and depressed rather than angry and vengeful for most of this scene. It was the judge’s nervousness and unhappiness that really conveyed the harshness of Leontes’ absolute authority.

When the oracle was called for, the judge used a sword for Cleomenes and Dion to swear on, and was clearly relieved to read out the good news of Hermione’s innocence. Unfortunately the king was determined to have a guilty verdict, and the inevitable happened. I liked the way this production allowed the actors to breathe and think instead of having to deliver their lines like a supermarket checkout person – so many per minute. When Leontes was talking with Paulina after she’s announced the death of his wife, he moved over to the table, and during his lines he paused briefly to pick up the piece of paper Hermione had with her during the trial. It was another touching moment, and another example of the layers of detail in the performance which made it such an enjoyable experience.

We were now off to Bohemia and the stage was cleared, with the back panel raised to show us a cloudy sky. Antigonus came onto this stage near the front and left the baby dead centre, speaking his lines to the audience. Which is why he didn’t see the big brown bear sneaking up on him from behind. As he got up to leave he turned and saw the bear, which reared up on his hind legs and …. blackout. The gory details were left to our imaginations. (Thankfully.) Then the old shepherd arrived, calling for his sheep, and set the tone for the comedy to come. The dialogue came across clearly, aided by Richard Easton (nice to see him again) providing some strong expressions to supplement the lines. Just before he headed off after the meeting with his son, he put the baby down and turned round to announce that he was taking on himself the role of time, a lovely way to segue the two scenes. He gave us the Time speech with both Florizel and Perdita standing at the back of the stage, so we would be prepared for who was who in the second half. Interval.

The second half began with Polixenes and Camillo, both older, having their little conversation, and the final line – “we must disguise ourselves” – got a good laugh. Then we met Autolycus for the first time. With the cast being split so that British accents were in Sicilia, and American ones in Bohemia, it was no surprise that Autolycus ws dressed like a hobo Bob Dylan, with a guitar which he used to accompany the songs he sings. I felt at the time it was  shame they hadn’t gone for some American country or folk songs instead of the regular Shakespeare stuff, as it’s even harder to get across the jokes with some of the songs than it is with the antiquated references in the dialogue. However. He sang and played well enough, and again the spoken lines came across more clearly than many another player’s.

With such a bare stage, the only place he could hide to avoid the young shepherd (I do wish Will had given the shepherds names) was below the back end of the platform. When he did emerge, it was with a large wooden cross which he proceeded to crucify himself on, only without the nasty business of the nails. This was good fun. He stole the shepherd’s wallet, as per usual, and after they went off to their various destinations, the stage was set up for a regular hoe-down. In addition to the balloons, there was a table laden with food, lots of chairs and a band, who struck up at every opportunity, including the ballads. The flowers were very nice, one of the women was nursing a small baby, and the two visitors were in the traditional long beards, hats and glasses. I thought they might have cut the satyrs dance, but we got a lively version of it here, with three men and three women adding balloons to their outfits to emphasis certain physical characteristics. Two of the women were Dorcas and Mopsa, the young shepherd’s jealous girlfriends, so there was some strategic balloon popping going on which left the young shepherd looking very deflated.

After Florizel’s attempt to marry Perdita had been broken up by his father revealing himself, the couple and Camillo went to the side of the stage to sit down and plot their escape. Meanwhile Autolycus came on, replete with purses, and was suitably happy to be in decent clothes again after the switch. He was a very casual courtier to the two shepherds, sitting in a chair, and it seemed plain that he once was at court and knows the manners instead of acting the total clown as some do. They reacted with terror to the news that they were to be killed, and were only too happy to ask for his help in approaching the king. And so we’re off to Sicilia at last.

The final act started with the bare stage and the bench, and when Leontes and Paulina arrived he was carrying a small bunch of flowers which he left centre front, as if laying them on Hermione’s grave. It was a lovely touch. Only one attendant was with them, and after the argument over the king’s remarriage was settled, the news of Florizel and Perdita’s arrival was brought, followed shortly by the people themselves. There was a moment of recognition from Leontes when he first sees Perdita – she was well cast to resemble Hermione – and I noticed that at the end of the scene, when Perdita was left with Paulina for a moment, Paulina got her first good look at the girl and her face also lit up as she recognised the similarity. I sniffled. I wasn’t sure if Paulina actually realised what the similarity meant, but it was a possibility.

The reporting of the reunions was well done, and then the bench was removed, the plinth brought on (placed over the flowers, I think), and Hermione’s ascent onto the pedestal was assisted by a group of attendants huddling in front of the plinth. She managed to stay pretty still, but it’s not easy for that length of time and so close to the audience. I liked this set up though, as it meant we got a good view of the other characters’ reactions to the statue. I sniffled a fair bit during this scene, as is only to be expected, and then with the reunions finally over we got to applaud good and hard for such a wonderful performance.

I loved the clarity of the dialogue in this production. I heard many lines for the first time and others were fresh and new, or given emphasis by appropriate gestures or expressions. Simon Russell Beale in particular was excellent as Leontes. I’ve already mentioned how much more affectionate he was with the children, and I also got a greater sense of him being driven by his jealousy to behave this badly, almost against his will. His suffering was more evident than I’ve seen before too, all of which made the play more focused and the eventual happiness all the more enjoyable.

The rest of the performances were also good, and the ensemble played very well together. Richard Easton’ shepherd was another highlight, and I suspect I’ll be even more impressed retrospectively after seeing The Cherry Orchard next week, once I’ve got a better appreciation of the actors’ range in different parts.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Oklahoma! – June 2009

5/10

By Rodgers and Hammerstein

Directed by John Doyle

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 22nd June 2009

Musicals aren’t Steve’s and my favourite type of entertainment, and while this performance was enjoyable it didn’t change our minds on the genre as a whole, although we would be happy to see another production of Oklahoma! in the future. The set was as minimalist as one could possibly get; just two grimy sheets slung across the stage at angles to suggest a wide open sky and a floorboard mound to suggest a field of wheat and the like. The director is well known for his economic use of resources in the Watermill Theatre (we hope to attend that one soon) and old habits evidently die hard.

The staging was similarly pretty sparse, and from reviews I’ve read the costumes were positively niggardly, with only one outfit per cast member (Ado Annie excepted, if I remember right). I thought the singing was great, and I especially loved Ado Annie (Natalie Cassidy) and her various partners in dialogue or song. Natalie Cassidy has such an expressive face, and she brought out the character and the humour really well.

From the post-show discussion, it was clear that the director had decided to bring out the darker side of this piece, and while that can make for an interesting evening it isn’t always appropriate. With this musical, I think the darker side is so under-written that it seems silly to emphasise it so much instead of giving the punters a rollicking good evening’s entertainment, but that’s just me. At least Steve and I had nothing to compare the production with, unlike many in the audience who could remember the original West End production, never mind the one at the National several years ago. Generally speaking, those who’d seen a more upbeat, lavish production found this one dismal and disappointing, while those of us who came to it relatively fresh (we had at least seen bits of the movie) found it more enjoyable.

On the whole, I felt the characters were pretty uninteresting, apart from Ado Annie and Ali Hakim (Michael Matus) the Persian pedlar who occasionally took off his makeup and spoke in a regular American accent. I felt he was worth more attention, compared to the bog standard Oklahomans. Aunt Eller in particular seemed to be on stage a lot but spoke and did very little, despite being a main character apparently. Ah well, better luck next year.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Death And The King’s Horseman – June 2009

8/10

By Wole Soyinka

Directed by Rufus Norris

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Wednesday 17th June 2009

On seeing this set, Steve thought it was the latest installation by Anthony Gormley. How awkward, I thought, when they’re trying to put on a play at the same time. When I saw it, I was intrigued. The stage floor was dark and shiny, with a broad red stripe curving round the front and more red speckles behind it. The rest of the floor seemed to be shiny black. There were about twelve figures spread across the centre of the stage; I assumed they were examples of Nigerian carving. They were eerie and beautiful at the same time – I don’t know the significance, although they may be a reference to the ancestors, so important in Nigerian culture.

There was a torn slit curving along the back at eye level with a bright white light shining through, and above it hung a long bundle of something indistinct – body parts, clothes? – which was lit from above. The overall effect was of a strange world, where spirits may walk and other values than our own hold sway – a good start.

When the lights went down (a bit late – there were a lot of people who needed to change seats because they found themselves in the wrong place) a trapdoor opened behind the figures and the cast began to emerge. The first, a woman, had a long lighted taper, and she came forward to light several flames round the front of the stage. By this light I could see that the red stuff was small granules, which some of the other women started to brush out of the way with the bundles of sticks they carried. Some of the men were taking the figures off stage, and with the musicians setting a good beat, it wasn’t long before dancing broke out, with one group of young women and another group of young men chasing each other around the stage. Meanwhile, Lucian Msamati (Pericles in the latest RSC production) and Jenny Jules were sitting on stools near the front being whited up. It was a very colourful, dynamic opening, where we could take in the spectacle and some of the details at our leisure.

Then, with all the figures off the stage and most of the actors having left as well, the play proper started with the dancing haystacks. Three of them, and they were dancing with the women. The Elesin (played by Nonso Anozie, the RSC Academy King Lear) came along and played hide and seek with the women amongst the haystacks until a chap in a bright blue outfit turned up, complaining that he’d been left behind. I didn’t follow all of it, but I gathered that the great man, the Elesin, the king’s horseman, was meant to have the services of someone to sing his praises, and this was the blue peacock’s job. I got the impression that the Elesin wanted to get on with chasing the young ladies, but he relented, and told the peacock to follow him. Their relationship reminded me of Shrek and the donkey – it was just as difficult to get peacock man to shut up.

At the village, there’s much rejoicing when the great man turns up, with lots more song and dance. The Mother of the market turns up (Claire Benedict) and is wonderfully gracious and commanding at the same time. She’s treated with great respect by Elesin, and after a bout of mock anger by him, they tog him out in some fresh clothes. During the dancing he spots a lovely young girl and is determined to have her that very night, even though she’s betrothed to another man. He talks it over with the Mother, and persuades her that he needs to unburden himself of his seed and leave it to grow in the earth before he dies that night. The image of the plantain is used a lot for this, the idea that the sap never dries out, that the old stem withers to feed the new sapling, that the cycle of life is continuous. The Mother agrees with him, but warns him not to leave seed that will harm the people. The marriage goes ahead, with the tendrils of the bundle descending over the couple, and then they sneak off to the marriage bed.

Just to explain – the King has died, and his horseman, the Elesin, is meant to die shortly afterwards, to continue serving the king in the afterlife. He’s expected to commit suicide, and this is what he plans to do that night.

Now we get to see the whited up characters, the District Officer and his wife. Mind you, we don’t get to see them at first, because they arrive in two magnificent red costumes with headdresses covering their faces completely, and dancing. Their furniture, veranda and two bushes also arrive dancing – I thought the lampshade in particular looked very fetching. The costumes are for a fancy dress party they’re off to that night and they’re used by the natives to represent the dead, or death. So when the sergeant turns up to report the imminent death of the Elesin, he can hardly get a word out for his fear of the costumes. Eventually the District Officer tells him to write down his information and get back to work.

The District Officer and his wife then try to find out what’s going on with the Elesin, so they question their steward, Joseph. He’s been Christian for a couple of years so isn’t bothered by the costumes. He is bothered by the drums, though, as they’re sending mixed messages. One minute they’re saying the king will die, then they say he’s getting married. With typical colonial insensitivity, the District Officer orders his men to arrest the Elesin to stop him killing himself, then he and his wife head off to the party.

When the two policemen arrive at the village they’re hounded mercilessly by the young women, who use their small brushes to good effect. The Mother arrives, but also chides them for wanting to take the Elesin away from his bride on the wedding night. There’s a lovely section where the women do impressions of the posh white folk (I’d have liked to have heard more of the lines) and the men are eventually sent packing after one of them has his underpants removed by the women.

Now the Elesin arrives, fresh from the consummation. The Mother shows a cloth round all the women to prove that sex has taken place. His wife, now a fully fledged woman herself, is led off, and after the women smear blue paint on his body the Elesin is left alone to die and accompany his king into the world of the ancestors. Interval.

The second half shows us more of the ‘white’ people at the fancy dress party. Some of the women carry yokes on their shoulders so they can carry two other dummy characters, one on each side – I’m not sure if the men were doing this too. All the party people were in historical frocks and outfits, except for the District Officer and his wife. They did some dancing, and then the District Officer was called away to deal with the problem of the Elesin and his intended death. His men catch the Elesin and bring him to the prison to prevent him committing suicide.

Around this time the Elesin’s son turns up. We’d already heard in the first half how the District Officer helped this young man to leave Africa and go to England to train as a doctor. As the eldest son, he would have been expected to carry on his father’s tradition and become horseman to the next chief. With his father not able to do what needs to be done, the young man kills himself instead to keep the cycle of life intact. Hearing this, the Elesin, manacled at the end of a long chain that hangs from the ceiling, also kills himself by wrapping the chain round his neck and strangling himself. It’s a sad ending, but a powerful and moving story, well told.

The experience of seeing black actors whiting up was a good one; at last there was some balance after years of the other way round, and although I must admit it was a bit of a jolt at first, I soon saw the funny side and loved every minute. There were some good pointed comments about colonialism, from a different perspective than we’re used to, and while I’m not keen on ritual killings per se, the overall impression was of a culture in closer touch with nature and the natural cycles than we ‘civilised’ folk often are, and full of life and the enjoyment of it. A very good afternoon’s entertainment, and a tremendous ensemble performance.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Write Me A Murder – June 2009

6/10

By Frederick Knott

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 16th June 2009

This was the only Frederick Knott play we hadn’t seen, so we were keen to add it to our list. The plot takes place in an old country house, part of a large estate which has been run down over the years. The set showed the study/sitting room, with a section of it walled off to the right. This part had a door or French windows out to the gardens, a filing cabinet, table and chair, and lots of bookcases with some guns displayed on the wall near the front. The door to the other part of the room was towards the back. The sitting room had a door to the kitchen on the left, next to the large fireplace. There were French windows centre back leading to the garden and we could see a sundial just outside them. There were chairs and a desk, and we could also see the stairs up to the bedrooms at the back on the left which was also the way to the front door. There was lots of wood panelling, and various family portraits hung about the place.

The plot concerned the sale of the house by its current owner the Honourable Clive Rodingham to Charles Sturrock, a businessman who’s made pots of money but who started out with nothing more than a chip on his shoulder when he lived in the very village they can see from the windows of this house. He’s mad keen to buy up the big house and become the lord of the manor, getting his own back on all the posh folk who he felt looked down on him all those years ago. He’s brought his young wife with him, Julie. She’s trying to be a writer, and as Clive’s younger brother David is an established author and has finally turned up now that his brother’s told him their father’s dead, Sturrock rather menacingly suggests that David help Julie out with her story which he agrees to do.

She’s attempting to win a short story competition in the newspapers; a small prize, but given her husband’s crushing contempt for her abilities it’s a big step for her. David mainly writes thrillers and detective stories so they start to work out a murder plot. Clive, meanwhile, is off to America to schmooze his prospective in-laws; he’s nabbed a rich US woman and hopes to live a life of contented luxury for many a year to come. There’s also a Doctor pottering around, Elizabeth Woolley, an old family friend as well as the local GP, and still as sharp as a pin. A good mix of characters, with a number of possibilities.

The plot was a little bit clunky, with lots of room for things to go wrong, but it was enjoyable enough. It felt like an attempt to reprise Dial M For Murder; it wasn’t quite up to that standard, although the final twist was lovely to watch. Some decent performances, and a reasonably good night all in all.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Winter’s Tale – June 2009 (2)

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Monday 15th June 2009

Having seen the understudy run and enjoyed it, it was always going to be a risk the first time we saw the regular cast in action. Fortunately it wasn’t a disappointment. This was their first Winter’s Tale after a break from it so they may have been a little rusty, but the performance was just as good overall with some gains and some slight losses.

In terms of performance Greg Hicks was a more tortured soul while Kelly Hunter brought out Hermione’s dignity and courage in adversity. Brian Doherty as Autolycus had had much more time to work on the comedy business than Paul Hamilton, so naturally there were more laughs and some things went more smoothly, but I wouldn’t rate the performance much higher than the understudy’s. The light dome fell as it should tonight, landing upright in the middle to form a cradle for the baby Perdita, but otherwise the set seemed just as before. We were sitting further back but at a similar angle, and I couldn’t hear some of the lines so well tonight, but I certainly sniffled as much as I had before and laughed just as much so it was another good evening all round.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Winslow Boy – June 2009

8/10

By Terence Rattigan

Directed by Stephen Unwin

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 12th June 2009

This was another Simon Higlett design, which we’d seen previously at an afternoon talk at the Rose Theatre. The whole set was encompassed by a huge picture frame, set at an angle. The sitting room itself had double doors to the left with a glimpse of the hall through them when they were opened, another door on the right to the library and French windows centre back. The furniture was simple but of good quality, with a sofa to the left of the double doors, a table in the middle and Mr. Winslow’s chair to the right near the front.

No need to go into the story here. The performances were excellent, among the best I’ve seen. The dialogue was wonderfully well delivered and I don’t think I’ve seen another production get so much humour out of the play. In particular, I loved the underplaying of many of the reactions which made each situation funnier. For example, when Ivy inadvertently breaks the news that Master Ronnie has returned home early despite everyone else conspiring to keep Mr. Winslow in the dark, there was very little obvious reaction amongst the characters but we got the point loud and clear (and laughed loud and clear as well).

The whole ensemble performed brilliantly, but I will just mention two of the cast. Timothy West was superb as Mr. Winslow, showing a wide emotional range as well as delivering some wonderful lines to perfection. Adrian Lukis played a more oily version of the QC Sir Robert Morton than I’ve seen before, but it worked very well. I found myself wondering what it’s like to make your first entrance towards the end of the first half,and to build up so quickly to such a magnificent exit line. I didn’t feel he and Kate would be so likely to get together this time round, but you never know.

Finally, I must mention that interrogation scene just before the interval. The interruptions by the family were spot on and I was able to feel their concern along with them. The climax was just as good as ever, and I had to wipe away a tear in the interval. I do like Rattigan’s work.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me