London Assurance – May 2010


By Dion Boucicault

Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Saturday 29th May 2010

The only reason this isn’t rated 10/10 is our unfortunate lateness, arriving half an hour after the start, and having to stand at the back of the circle till the interval. (A trespasser on the line between Haywards Heath and Three Bridges, or a suspected blockage in the Balcombe tunnel, depending on which of the many apologetic announcements you believe.) Even so, we were laughing loudly within a couple of minutes, at the servant, Cool’s comment ‘How polite. Must be a lawyer.’ And we kept on laughing, even before we took our seats for the second half.

It was good to see Simon Russell Beale giving us a fop again. It’s a good few years since his grounding in such roles at the RSC, and he hasn’t lost his touch, just refined it superbly with experience. His clothes weren’t as OTT as is usual with fops, but his affected mannerisms told the story just as well, possibly better. The way he threw a cushion to the floor in preparation for dramatically throwing himself on it in his pursuit of Lady Gay, was almost as funny as his pained expression when he did manage to collapse onto said cushion. There comes a time in life when romantic gestures have to become more restrained – Sir Harcourt is long past that time.

Fiona Shaw was perfect as Lady Gay Spanker – her entrance alone had both her and the audience hooting with laughter, never mind her excellent delivery of the lines. I would have loved to be closer to see her racing-commentator-style description of a recent steeplechase, but even from the gods it was good fun.

The set was just right, too. Enough detail to evoke the country squire’s manor, but not too fussy. The walls were a z-shape, with the inside portion showing us the drawing-room, and the other side, courtesy of the revolve, showing us the outside of the property. The hunting theme was established early on with lots of stuffed heads on the walls, and given that I know nothing about these things, I assume the furniture and costumes were period perfection – the NT knows how to do these things properly. Of course, we missed the earlier scenes in London, so I’ve no idea what that bit looked like; if we can get to see this again, I’ll be keen to get there on time to enjoy that part as well.

I believe I’ve described the story well enough in a previous set of notes, and although Richard Bean had assisted with some updates, there were no changes to the overall plot. The most notable updating was that Solomon Isaacs, the moneylender from whom Charles Courtly has been hiding, turns out to be from the East. Not Cheltenham, as one character suggests, but farther east than that. A gentleman of Chinese extraction, in fact. The look of surprise on the faces of the assembled throng were a joy to behold, with Lord Harcourt’s expression of astonishment topping them all. Before he leaves, Solomon Isaacs rounds it off by advertising that he’s willing to give anyone with money troubles a consolidated loan, interest-free for the first eighteen months. Lady Gay was quick to take a card, I noticed.

The other performances were also excellent. It was a shame Richard Briers had so little to do as Lady Gay’s husband, but he did all of it brilliantly. Matt Cross as Dazzle, the high-living, lower-class scrounger, doesn’t have so much to do after the start (which we missed), but we both enjoyed his contemporary-sounding ‘walk away’ lines when breaking up a fight. And all the rest were equally as good in this top-notch production.

One final moment to remember – the look of horrified astonishment from Sir Harcourt Courtly as his son, confessing his earlier deception in pretending to be Mr. Hastings, whipped off his glasses to show that he and Mr. Hastings are one and the same! Hilarious, and worth the price of a ticket on its own.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

Beyond The Horizon – May 2010


By Eugene O’Neill

Directed by Laurie Sansom

Company: Royal and Derngate Northampton

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Thursday 27th May 2010

We expect O’Neill’s work to be dark and full of suffering, and today’s piece hit the mark perfectly. It had the look and feel of an early work (haven’t read the program notes yet) with a bit more humour and less detail and complexity in the relationships, but not enough to reduce our enjoyment.

The set was nice and simple. A slightly raised square platform had torn strips of earth and floorboard across it, to represent the two locations. A tree trunk stood centre back, with stumps of branches twisted in the same direction, indicating a strong prevailing wind. At the back were silhouettes of hills in the distance, and the sky above took on different colours to suit the time and the mood. For the scenes on top of the hill, the cast usually brought on pieces of a fence which they slotted into position. For the interior scenes, they brought on a table (left of centre), a comfy chair (front right), a writing bureau (back right) and chairs and a footstool. For the final scene on the hilltop, the cast simply turned the furniture over, suggesting the final destruction of the farm, and of the remaining characters’ dreams.

The story involved two brothers, Andy and Robert, both in love with the same girl, Ruth. They’ve grown up together in a small farming community in Connecticut, with Andy being the farming type, destined to take over the farm from his father one day, and Robert being the sickly bookworm, who’s developed into a healthier young man, and who now wants to go to sea with Uncle Dick to travel and see the world, as well as learning to be ship’s officer.

The play opens the evening before Robert is due to leave. The two brothers stood on the stage, either side of the tree, as the rest of the cast brought on the fence posts and props. With the brothers staying still, the others set up the fence, then gave each brother their prop (a hoe and a book, since you ask) and after standing for a moment lining each side of the stage, the others left and the action began. This type of staging can slow things down an awful lot, but in this case it was OK, and paid one major dividend towards the end (more on that story later).

The brothers talk about many things, including their relationship, their father’s farm, how folk will miss Robert, etc. Robert is going to tell his brother something, but backs out at the last minute. As Andy heads off to wash up for dinner, Ruth arrives, wanting to know why Robert wants to leave his family and friends. His first reason is poetical and romantic. He tells her of all the times when he was young and in his wheelchair, sitting by the window and looking out at the hills, how he used to dream about the sea, and all the lands beyond. Now he was well enough to travel, he was keeping the promise he’d made to himself all those years ago. (It sounded better when he told it.) Then we get the other reason. He tells Ruth that he’s in love with her, but since she’s in love with Andy….. Ruth is practically wetting herself with excitement by this time, ‘cause she’s actually in love with Robert. She spent time with Andy because Rob was always off on his own, reading some book. Knowing this, Rob agrees to ditch his travel plans, stay on the farm and marry Ruth. (Uncle Dick will be so disappointed. I mean it, he will.)

The next scene is set in the farmhouse, after supper. Rob is taking Ruth and her mother home, while Andy, Ma and Pa Mayo, and Uncle Dick are sitting down talking. Or rather Uncle Dick is talking, about some woman asking a foolish question about where seagulls sleep. He’s an obnoxious old bugger and no mistake. It’s a miracle his crew haven’t murdered him in his sleep and thrown the body overboard. Fortunately, Kate Mayo, Ron and Andy’s mother, is a cheerful soul with a positive outlook. Pa Mayo is a decent enough bloke, not inclined to give too much whisky to Dick, presumably his brother-in-law, but otherwise fine unless his pride in the family farm is attacked. Andy’s very quiet, and goes off to check on one of the cows, which gives Kate a chance to talk about her feeling that things aren’t right. She’s already picked up from the fact that Rob and Ruth were glowing and Andy was down in the dumps that perhaps the wedding they’re all expecting sometime soon may have a different pair at the altar than previously envisaged, but her husband pooh-poohs the idea. Mind you, he does acknowledge she was right later on, after Rob comes back and announces his change of plan. Ma and Pa are delighted, Uncle Dick throws a strop, apparently based on his concern that after getting a cabin freshly painted for Rob to use, the crew will think he was planning on bringing a woman with him, but she’s dumped him. Andy congratulates Rob, having returned just as he was telling everyone his news, but it’s clear he’s been hit hard. As Dick goes on trying to persuade Rob to change his mind, it’s also clear how this is going to play out. Sure enough, Andy soon announces he’ll be going with Uncle Dick in Rob’s place. To stop his father’s protests, he throws some unkind words at him, insulting the very farm he’s loved himself up to now, and that’s too much for his father who disowns him outright. There was a fair bit of humour in this scene, particularly when Pa Mayo went to top up Uncle Dick’s whisky glass. While he’s talking, he keeps pausing just before he pours, and when he finally did pour, it hardly covered the bottom of the glass. We did enjoy the pauses, and the look Dick gave him.

The next scene is set several years ahead. There’s a child, around three years old, called Mary, and Ruth and her mother are now living in the Mayo farmhouse. Ruth looks harassed and worn out, and is increasingly cross with Mary, who isn’t keen to spend time with her bitch of a mother. Ruth’s mother may not be able to walk, but her mouth and tongue are in fine fettle, and so they should be, the amount of exercise they get. Criticising this, carping about that, complaining that no one ever takes her advice, it would try the patience of a saint, something no one would ever accuse her of being. Kate is dressed in black, and we soon get confirmation that Pa Mayo has died, about three years ago, and not long after Rob started working on the farm. As a result, the place has gone steadily downhill; Rob doesn’t have Andy’s experience or aptitude for farming, and without his father’s guidance he’s making a mess of things. This puts a lot of pressure on Ruth, while Kate seems to be content leaving everything in Rob’s incapable hands. She’s not even bothered when Ruth’s mother ‘accidentally’ lets slip that Rob is intending to mortgage the farm. And over all of this hangs the rainbow of Andy’s return. He’s sent them letters, they’re expecting him any day, and everyone seems to think it will all be fine when Andy gets back and takes over the farm. Ruth even tells Rob that she really loved Andy all along, though she didn’t realise it until too late. I did wonder if he would actually turn up at all or whether it would turn out to be their delusions talking, but the first half ends with Andy’s off-stage arrival.

The next scene is back up on the hill. Rob has taken Mary up there, and told her to play in the shade of the tree with her doll. Andy finds him there, and asks about all his experiences. Apparently, the amazing and terrifying time when they went through a monsoon slipped Andy’s mind when he came to write his letters home. (I did briefly wonder if Ruth had been hiding some of them.) Then comes the bad news – Andy plans to spend a short time on the farm, helping them get it back into shape, and making sure he hires a good man to look after things when he’s gone, but then he’s heading back to Argentina, to work in the grain business, where there are fortunes waiting for enterprising young men such as himself. He also tells Rob that he realised pretty soon that he didn’t actually love Ruth, so there needn’t be any tension between them over that.

Rob tells him not to mention this to Ruth, but after he takes Mary back to the house, Ruth arrives, all spruced up now she has a man to attract. When Andy tells her he doesn’t love her, she’s terribly hurt, and then Uncle Dick turns up to tell Andy that a boat in the harbour is actually on the point of leaving for Argentina, and everyone’s fate is sealed.

The next scene is another few years ahead. At the end of setting up the farmhouse room again, Kate, still in black, is standing by Pa Mayo, and Mary runs and joins them. They then leave the stage together, and from this I realised that both Kate and Mary had died. This was confirmed in the opening few minutes of the scene, and I felt this was a very effective use of these scene change moments. Now things have got really bad, with Ruth’s mother having to give Ruth money out of her savings to keep them afloat, but only just afloat. Rob is seriously ill, but still talking of a wonderful future. Ruth looks completely worn out, and her mother is no less bitchy than before. When Andy turns up with a doctor to check up on Rob’s condition, we learn that Rob has indeed very little time left. He tries to get Andy to promise to marry Ruth once he’s dead, but Andy holds off. Ruth and he talk about this, and Ruth explains that Rob still thinks she’s in love with Andy – this bit dragged a little. But then they find Rob has escaped from the bedroom, and they search for him, ending up back on the hilltop.

Rob is there, and this is when the furniture is turned over. The play ends with Rob dying in Andy’s arms. Andy and Ruth have a few more lines, but I don’t remember exactly what was said, although I think there was some reference back to earlier images.

Overall, it was a good play, and a good production, with strong performances all round. Despite a mobile going off towards the end of the penultimate scene, we enjoyed ourselves, and we’re only surprised to find that this is our first visit to the Cottesloe this year.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

Salome – May 2010


By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Company: Headlong

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Wednesday 26th May 2010

We saw a production of this many years ago at the Barbican (1989). That one was directed by Steven Berkoff, who also played Herod, and the design was strongly black and white art deco with everyone except John the Baptist in evening dress. The cast moved in a smooth and stately manner, almost slow motion, and when sitting, they were almost completely still. I didn’t find it Wilde’s most enjoyable work, but it was interesting to see it staged, and there was one gem that has stayed with me. When Herod was trying to persuade Salome to take some reward other than the head of John the Baptist, he went through a long, long list of all the riches, especially the jewels, which he owned, to tempt her to change her mind. At one point, he mentioned two large emeralds, and from the look Herodias gave him at that moment, it was clear she hadn’t been brought up to speed on those particular items. Until now. It was a very subtle reaction, given that none of the actors were moving much physically, but it spoke volumes.

This was another stylised production, but today’s theme was the oh-so-fashionable industrial grunge. We both hope that directors and designers get past this phase as soon as possible. It works sometimes, but so often it just seems to be out of kilter with the play, and this was one of those times. They even used the cliché of a gangsta rap, done by one of the white boys, the lad who was attracted to Salome.

The stage was almost filled by a raised platform, which made it difficult for us to see the action properly (no complaints from us), and it was surrounded by lighting racks – like we need to be reminded we’re watching a theatrical performance. The ‘action’ started early, with actors coming on stage one at a time and prowling round, climbing the lighting racks, etc. Presumably they knew what this was meant to be about, but nobody told us. It went on so long, I started to giggle as the thought went through my head that this might be all there was. One hour and twenty-six minutes of prowling actors. Then there was a loud noise, and two blasts of steam shot in the air. Unfortunately, from where I sat, this just looked like two of the cast had done a special effects fart, so again I had the giggles.

It took me a while to settle into the performance, but after about ten minutes I started to enjoy myself a bit. The grunge disappeared into the background, and the dialogue was coming across clearly. Salome came on and pouted her way around the stage for a bit, finally demanding to speak to John, or Iokanaan as they were calling him. Her behaviour was a bit peculiar throughout this performance, very twitchy and nervy and with lots of sexual posturing. I haven’t spent much time with drug addicts, so I don’t know if that’s what they were trying to suggest, but it’s the only explanation I can come up with. Admittedly, Herod’s court had a reputation for decadence. Trouble is, if you reduce the royal court to a bunch of boozy cokeheads, it takes away from the effect of their actions.

Still, she gets some quality time with John, which she mostly spends blowing hot and cold about his physical attractiveness. I couldn’t make her out at all in this section – was she scared, was she aroused, was she angry? I haven’t a clue. Her promise that she would kiss John’s mouth was mildly chilling, but then we knew the story ahead of time.

Herod and Herodias turn up, and this is where I found sleep getting the better of me. I grasped that Herod was infatuated with Salome, and that Herodias wasn’t happy about that, and then I mercifully missed a chunk, coming to shortly before Herod asked Salome to dance for him, which she agreed to do despite her mother’s objections. Steve has confirmed I didn’t miss much.

Steve and I have pondered this version of Salome’s dance, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it was done this way to show just how much Herod was obsessed by Salome. Not only did he jerk off to her pitiful attempt at dancing (we assume he was miming) but for some reason we are probably too old to understand, Salome had done herself up in a black gauze dress, pink undies, pink makeup and a vivid pink wig. The beatbox was fine, though her attempt to turn the raising of the aerial into a seductive movement left a lot to be desired. She jerked her way unevenly between bits of a dance routine, finally going for a strip (forget the tease), and only kept her panties partially on because Herod had already come in his pants. Like I say, we weren’t complaining about the restricted view.

After this, she claimed the head of John as her reward, and after Herod’s offered her everything else he can think of, he orders his men to give her what she wants. Herodias was delighted that her daughter held her ground – no reaction here to the jewels, but then I think that part was cut. As the stage lights were turned out, the final image, held in the light of several torches, was of Salome kissing the lips of the severed head. Gruesome.

As usual, the performances were fine, we just didn’t care for the way this design choice appeared to have been used for no good reason. I also found the high-pitched voice of Herod off-putting. Steve said it reminded him of the childish gods in the first Dido he saw many years ago; he didn’t like that one, either.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

Ruined – May 2010


By Lynn Nottage

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 22nd May 2010

I don’t know what went wrong for me at this performance. Maybe I was tired, maybe I had the wrong expectations of this piece, or maybe we were just too far round the side for this production, but I found it uninvolving in a number of ways.

Firstly, the humour was great, and I acknowledge that in difficult situations it’s normal for people to laugh as a way of coping. But when there’s so much death and violence going on, sometimes the humour seemed to be too light. We’re not used to living in those circumstances, so I felt I needed more of a sense of the hardships in order to appreciate the women’s reactions and the ways that they coped. When working in a brothel can seem a better prospect than life in a village, it’s hard to know just how sorry to feel for these women, and for the people as a whole. Are they suffering? Or are they just a strange bunch of folk who don’t seem to mind living in a war zone? I like ambiguity, but this felt more like indifference.

And secondly, the production looked like it was aimed squarely at the centre stalls. I missed a good few lines because the actor’s back was towards me, and while the rotating set was very effective, it came so far forward that parts of the stage weren’t visible from the side of the stalls.

The set was the inside and outside of Mama Nadi’s bar, somewhere in the Republic of Congo, near a road in a mining area. She takes in girls to work as prostitutes, often because there’s no one else to take care of them – their husbands and families have been killed or are away fighting in the civil war. We see the rebel soldiers and the official government troops – each lot seems as bad as the other – and in between are the ordinary folk, mainly the women, who are simply trying to survive. I was very aware of the wasted lives and the senselessness of the cultural conditioning that rejects a woman after she’s been abducted and raped, because she would dishonour the family.

And all the performances were absolutely brilliant. Jenny Jules as Mama Nadi was central to the piece, and she carried it off superbly, with Lucian Msamati’s Christian close behind as the man who loves her and finally wins her. The music was great, and the costumes and set very colourful. If I could have connected with the characters more, I would have really enjoyed this. As it is, it was still a great performance, and I hope it gets the awards it deserves.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

Nightfright – May 2010


By Roger S Moss

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Thursday 20th May 2010

A decent enough production of a pretty average thriller. Ian Dickens Productions tend to do these very much tongue in cheek, and there were certainly a few laughs tonight, though we suspect the locked kitchen door swinging open wasn’t planned. The set had the main entrance far left, window, door to kitchen, locked cupboard door, stairs to upper level (bedroom), door far right to garden/graveyard. This was a converted chapel, which was being rented out by an unscrupulous pair to provide suitable bodies for organ harvesting. Along come one newlywed couple, arriving a day before the resident villains have finished clearing up the previous occupant, and years of careful planning go to waste. How frustrating.

The regular in the cast, David Callister, did a good job as the multiple personality medical villain, while Joanne Heywood matched him as the schizophrenic estate agent come neighbourly vamp. I noticed they were both smiling at the end when they took their bows – I assume that it’s good fun playing those parts, and not something to take seriously. The leads were OK, though I found Helen George’s voice a bit nasal for my liking. But the main problem was the weak writing. It lost all credibility for me when the couple failed to call the police after finding the bloodstained clothes hidden up the chimney, not to mention the freshly dug grave in the no longer used graveyard. Still, they did their best, and we enjoyed ourselves well enough.

I did like the spoof CVs for the fake actors, to give the audience the mildest challenge possible in spotting the double casting. The inclusion of The Grain Store in the actress’s RSC credits was a particularly nice touch, I thought.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

The Habit Of Art – May 2010


By Alan Bennett

Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Saturday 15th May 2010

At last we made it! We had to miss an earlier performance due to ill health or travel problems or somesuch, so I was very glad to get here today. This is probably the best thing we’ve seen this year so far, almost 10/10, but unfortunately it not only included some of Auden’s poetry (not a fan) but the format is a play within a play, where the fictional author’s work is meant to have some less good bits in it, such as talking furniture, talking facial creases, etc. These were fine up to a point, and did give us some very good laughs, but they do have the drawback of being not very good, and however much I put them in quotation marks they still tend to lower the standard. There were a few other areas that became unnecessarily dull as well, but overall the experience was very great fun.

The set was excellent. I’ve never been in a rehearsal room at the National, but the design looked very similar to the workshops which we saw on a backstage tour. Left and back walls were white brick, apart from an area of black panels in the back wall, while the right wall was wooden strips. The fictional play’s set was mocked up in the middle – small raked area with desk, two chairs, piano behind, door to the right of that, kitchen area to the left (bits were labelled ‘fridge’ and cooker’), bed raised up behind piano, and an upper level on the left with a grand piano and chair – destined for the Cottesloe, then. Around this ‘set’ there were several chairs front left, and a string of desks to the right, including a keyboard. The ‘real’ sink was against the left wall, behind the entrance door. Even the ceiling lights were authentic. And there were all sorts of books and other junk cluttering up the ‘set’.

The performance started early, with the ASM arriving first to set things up. The audience pretty much ignored this, so I was glad when they finally twigged that we were under way and shut up in time for us to hear the dialogue. The second half was much the same, with cast members arriving back in the rehearsal room in dribs and drabs, and chatting away to each other. The audience were a bit more alert second time around, thank goodness.

The play within the play concerned a meeting between Auden and Benjamin Britten after a gap of some thirty years in which they discussed, amongst other things, Britten’s next project, an opera based on Death In Venice, the Thomas Mann novel. It also covered Auden’s complete lack of hygiene, his preference for sucking off rent boys to a very strict schedule, and various other musings on the lives of these and other famous men. We got the inevitable ‘more fucking elves’ comment about Tolkien’s work, and of course the music was largely Britten’s, although Show Me The Way To Go Home also featured.

The contextual play allowed for frequent interruptions to question the facts, the dialogue, the staging, etc., and meant that a good deal of extra information could be brought out without having to double-dramatise it. And there was all the fun of watching a ‘rehearsal’ in progress, with many wry observations on the way these things work, the way actors behave, the diplomacy skills required to keep it all on track (Frances de la Tour was excellent as the stage manager) and the way the National itself operates. For example, two of the actors couldn’t make the rehearsal because they were in the Chekov matinee, although one of them did turn up during the interval chit-chat on stage in full Russian peasant gear.

The performances were, as usual, excellent, with many lovely touches. Adrian Scarborough’s actor character, who played Carpenter, the biographer of both Auden and Britten, was deeply distressed to find out that his part was simply a dramatic device, and his attempt to bring out more of Carpenter’s background by dressing up and singing a song about the wind made for a great start to the second half. Alex Jennings’ character Henry contributed some interesting revelations about his time as a rent boy when he was studying at RADA, thinly disguised as the experiences of ‘a friend’, while Elliot Levey as the author gave Bennett a chance to poke fun at the writer’s lack of authority in the rehearsal room. All good fun, and worth the wait to see it.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

Yes, Prime Minister – May 2010


By Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 13th May 2010

Opening night! First performance! And they did it very well. Our overall impression was that the piece is pretty good but a little uneven, and tonight’s experience should help them make the necessary adjustments.

The set made good use of the vast plains of the main stage. Representing the PM’s study at Chequers, there were doors to the left and right of centre, one being integrated into the bookcases along the right hand wall. A sofa and chair were left and centre, the PM’s desk was in front of the bookcases, and there was a shaped window seat to our right, fitting nicely in with the design of the edge of the stage, which showed the outside of the building – path, flowers, etc. Between the doors at the back was a large window, with autumnally-coloured trees seen through it. The storm effects included real wet stuff, fortunately confined to the exterior locations.

The plot concerned a possible oil deal with a fictitious -stan, which thanks to the topsy-turvy world of international finance, would mean Europe getting the dosh now, so they could afford to buy the oil later. Or something like that. Basically, it was a multi-trillion bribe to lock European states into paying a higher price for this state’s oil in the future. With the PM absolutely gagging for it (the deal, that is), the only snag seems to be a request from the -stani foreign minister for a pre-defiled schoolgirl, under our age of consent, for a spot of post-dinner ravishing. The moral, political and practical dilemmas this request poses are thoroughly explored through the second half, and include a prayer session, the aforementioned storm, an illegal immigrant working as a cook at Chequers, a live interview on the BBC, and the Royal helicopter. Nuff said.

Of course, that’s only the bare bones of the evening’s entertainment, with topical references skittering across the stage so fast I probably missed a few. And the perennial problems of being the man in charge got the usual airing as well. One of my favourite bits was when the PM has a despairing rant about all the woes that afflict him (Job had it easy), culminating in the final straw, global warming, whereupon his head sank onto the back of a chair. Mind you, there were plenty of other lines that got a great response from the audience. After the uncertainties of recent weeks, I suspect we were all ready to let off steam, and this was the perfect opportunity. This is the area that’s most likely to be updated, as events at Westminster and Downing Street unfold, while Sir Humphrey’s elaborate monologues, explaining in ‘simple’ terms the complexities of some subtle point of the art of government, will no doubt be untouched. Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey did an excellent job delivering these speeches, and if the people behind us had been quieter I would have enjoyed them even more. Jonathan Slinger played Bernard with the right degree of innocence, classical education, and moral indignation, while Emily Joyce did her best with the part of Special Policy Advisor, but I felt her lines didn’t get as many laughs as the others. Sam Dastor did a very nice job as the -stani ambassador – from him we learned that Sir Humphrey’s nickname at Oxford was ‘Bubbles’ – and William Chubb and Tim Wallers were fine as the BBC Director General and a mock Jeremy Paxman.

Teamwork notwithstanding, the honours for tonight, by the narrowest of majorities, must go to David Haig as the PM, Jim Hacker. He covered the whole range of emotions, posturing like a strong leader one minute, and then collapsing into wimp mode the next. I especially liked his response to Sir Humphrey telling him he’s been courageous – ‘have I?’ he says, sinking onto the window seat full of worry and concern.

The issue of under-age prostitution was stronger stuff than we’re used to from this team, and I felt a bit uncomfortable for a while, but the writing focused on the responses of the various characters, and the humour of that soon got me involved again. A few people did leave during the interval, but on the whole, we’re looking forward to seeing this again in a few weeks.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

King Lear – May 2010

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Vik Sivalingam

Company: RSC Understudies

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 4th May 2010

The first time we saw this was back in February, when it had only just opened. Today’s understudies run had a few differences, but it was basically the same, and no more interesting than before as a production, though the understudies gave good to excellent performances. Several of them were preferred to the original cast, though to be fair we would need to see this again to see how it’s come on.

Our seats were on the opposite side, giving us an interesting change of perspective. We lost some things – couldn’t see the nuns in the upper level, for instance – but gained on others, although I still didn’t pay close attention to the blinding scene. The flickering lights were still unnecessary, but from the side the industrial shambles set wasn’t so intrusive, which helped.

Darrell d’Silva took a break, presumably to help his hand injury heal, so there were fewer ‘other part’ players available. The march across the diagonals by each side in the battle was reduced to one side only – Lear, Cordelia and one other – and the rabble of knights seemed depleted from the off, but that may have been our angle. Lear was joined on the platform during the thunderstorm by the fool, an interesting doubling with Cordelia, but this production was predicated on two separate actors so couldn’t make anything of it. Hannah Young played Goneril today, but as she understudies Regan as well, Katy Stephens played her own part. I must say, the understudies didn’t seem out of place at all.

The performances were more broad-brush this time around, which may have worked better for us, but we were still moved during the later scenes, such as Edgar’s discovery of his father’s blinding. I did nod off a bit during the first half, but since the World Snooker Championship final didn’t finish till well after midnight last night, it was only to be expected.

Paul Hamilton did well as Kent (and didn’t block our view once), Adam Burton was nicely evil as Edmund, Ansu Kabia did a good job of Edgar, and I liked Sophie Russell both as the fool and as Cordelia. James Gale did well enough as Lear, though there’s so much range to the part that it’s asking a lot for an understudy to get a performance up to speed so quickly. Still, I could see him as the kind of man to revel in flattery and then go insane when he comes into contact with harsh reality.

An interesting afternoon then, if not the most enjoyable one.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at