As You Like It – June 2010

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sam Mendes

Company: Old Vic Bridge Project

Venue: Old Vic

Date: Wednesday 30th June 2010

This was a bizarre mixture. The Bridge Project brings together British and American actors for joint productions – this year’s offerings are As You Like It and The Tempest – but we expected they would rehearse in one group. Today’s effort looked liked they’d rehearsed separately, and were still trying to figure out how to put the two halves together. For the most part, the Brits were good, with clear delivery of lines and some animation to their performances. For the most part, the U.S. team were OK, despite noticeably weaker delivery, but with Christian Camargo as Orlando the standard of performance nose-dived. His delivery never rose above the mechanical, his demeanour was lacklustre, his expression deeply depressed, and I even wondered if he was on some form of medication, he seemed so out of it. This obvious weakness brought the whole production down, and it was all the worse for us because Edward Bennett was in the cast, playing Oliver, the younger-looking older brother to Orlando – ‘unless the master were the man.’ One quick cast change would improve this production enormously; as it is, the better performances saved it from a miserable 2/10 rating, and judging by the empty seats which appeared after the interval, we weren’t the only ones suffering. I did nod off a bit in the second half, but according to Steve, I didn’t miss much.

The set was pretty good, though. The stage had been brought forward again, and there were exits through the first boxes on either side, as well as stairs at the front left of the stage. A couple of tall skinny tree trunks sat one on either side of the forestage, and there were stacks of chopped wood nestling in each of the boxes. A long garden bench sat further back on the left for the opening scenes, and during the play all sorts of furniture, carts, etc. were whisked on and off, so efficiently that I really didn’t notice them.

For the opening scenes, there was a full length wooden wall not far behind the bench, with a door in the centre. Once into the forest, this wall rose up and exposed the rest of the stage, with lots more tree trunks and a ramp up to the central exit at the back. In the summer, the undergrowth was rampant, and there were plenty of locations for an ardent romantic poet to stick his oeuvre. The costumes were modern.

Last year there were lots of interesting aspects to the productions; this time I found little to excite me, but there was one gem nestling amongst the straw. When Touchstone was describing the seven degrees of quarrelling, he involved the Duke and Jacques, encouraging them to act out the various stages. When he came to the end and made the reference to a quarrel being patched up with an ‘if’, he looked meaningfully at the Duke. I caught the reference to the two men being ‘sworn brothers’ afterwards, and at first I thought the Duke’s reaction was his recollection of how his own brother had treated him. But then his words to Touchstone were accompanied by a gesture, touching his nose I think, which made me realise that Touchstone had been referring to something in the past between the Duke and his brother. We enjoyed that idea very much.

I wasn’t so taken with Jacques imitating Bob Dylan for his verse of the first song in the forest. It was a good enough impression, especially with the mouth organ, but it distorted the words so that I couldn’t hear the ‘Ducdame’ line. Since I know the play well enough I still got the humour of Jacques’ next line, but it was weakened for me.

Touchstone was pretty good, Audrey, Phoebe and their swains were fine (William headbutted Touchstone, good for him), Celia was OK, and LeBeau was fine if a bit too affected with his very slow delivery. Antony O’Donnell was fine as Corin, and Michael Williams as both Dukes did very well. I liked the changeover, although it took a little time. Duke baddie discovered his daughter’s flight at court, standing in a square of light. The scene ended, the wall rose, and the Duke and his men walked back to where some boxes sat, took out the extra clothes they needed and put them on, while the boxes were repositioned for the next scene. It worked quite well, and at least we were clear that the same actor was playing two parts.

Charles was the skinniest wrestler I’ve ever seen, not much bigger than Orlando. The fight scene was played out under a swinging light, à la Callan, which made it harder to see what was going on. Perhaps they weren’t confident in the fight director, as the little I could make out wasn’t very convincing.

I’ve already put the boot into Orlando, so that just leaves Juliet Rylance as Rosalind. It sounds like faint praise to say she was fine, but with such a limp Orlando I don’t know that she could have done any better. I did like the way she ran the lines together into unintelligibilty when questioning Celia about Orlando – it got the point across even better than clear enunciation of every word. She’s certainly a good actress to make us believe Rosalind was actually in love with the big lump. Better luck next time.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

42nd Street – June 2010

9/10

Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble

Directed by Paul Kerryson

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 28th June 2010

This was great fun. We may well have seen this before, and if so, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. This was an excellent production, full of excellent performances, with a great set and costumes. The story is a bit of flim-flam, but with fantastic songs and great dancing, mostly my favourite tap as well, who cares?

The set did a star turn on its own. The back of the stage had a large art deco frame, with six moving panels making a sliding wall, which opened at the start to reveal the band – sorry, orchestra – snuggled into the space behind, giving the overture plenty of welly. At other times, the panels rotated to show a shiny side, giving a mirror effect which showed us ourselves. And a fine bunch we were too. We laughed out loud at many of the jokes, clapped long and hard at every opportunity, and many of us stayed behind for extra homework, or in this case, the post-show discussion.

Apart from the dancing panels, the stage was relatively free of clutter – great for dancing. The rehearsal piano lurked back left, there was the odd table or chair brought on, and they also used the central area with the swivelling trapdoors to bring up special sets, such as the dressing room and the bed for the dramatic shooting incident in the dance section. The rear panels were also used as a screen, where newspaper headlines about the Great Depression were shown during the opening to We’re In The Money, just in case the younger members of the audience didn’t know what was going on in the 1930s. Incidentally, I felt this version of We’re In The Money was a bit weak – it may come on for more practice, and one of the woman dancer’s coin hat fell off during the dance, which gave the impression that there’s a bit of work needed. (See also the post-show point below)

So we sat there, enjoyed the songs, loved the dancing, and laughed at the humour. What more could we ask for?

The post-show was enjoyable enough, but didn’t reveal much that was new. I did learn that the stage surface will need to be reworked, as the dancers kept slipping on it tonight. They have to paint it with something to make it right for tap dancing, apparently.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Quartet – June 2010

6/10

By Ronald Harwood

Directed by Joe Harmston

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 25th June 2010

It’s early days still for this new play by Ronald Harwood, and although there’s some excellent material here, there’s still scope for further polishing. The four hugely experienced actors were all fine – Timothy West in particular seemed to relish his part – though I felt a few funny lines missed their mark, whether through audience inattention or a slight mis-timing I wasn’t sure.

The set was quite impressive. To right and left were two imposing walls, with a door in the left one. At the back were some large arches with light coloured curtains or blinds in front of them. A baby grand was back left, some chairs and a table front right, with another chair front left. There was a sofa centre back in front of the curtains, and on either side just past the performing area were some hospital screens.

The story took place in a retirement home for musicians, and the four characters we meet are former opera singers, now in their twilight years and living in the home through necessity or, in one case, choice. All four know each other, though as it turns out not biblically, and all sang together in a production of Rigoletto, the recording of which has just been reissued.

One of the home’s traditions is to hold a gala performance on October 10th, Verdi’s birthday, to honour the great man. These four are asked to sing together, and the play is mainly about how they get over their ‘professional’ and personal difficulties to perform the famous quartet from Rigoletto as the gala’s star turn.

Along the way there’s a great deal of humour, mostly to do with the ageing process, and of course we come to know the characters very well as past secrets are uncovered and some kind of peace made with both the past and the present.

For the finale, the stage is cleared of all but the side walls, as the quartet take to the stage to demonstrate the talent of their earlier days. They do this by miming to the CD of their greatest hit, although I didn’t realise that was what was going on until the next day. I mean, I knew they were miming, I just didn’t register that it was a deliberate choice on the part of the characters at the time. In my defence, I will point out that Rigoletto is one of the few operas I have seen staged, it was a magnificent production – the set for the final act received a round of applause on its own – and it’s also one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in the theatre (i.e. I cried a lot). So naturally the music brought back the memories, which brought back the sniffles…… So I was clearly in no state of mind to grasp what was going on, m’lud. The defence rests.

There was a bit of (planned) heckling from the audience just before the final song, and when the music ended, so did the play. While I think that there’s still more to come, we did enjoy ourselves, and I hope the tour does really well.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Love The Sinner – June 2010

5/10

By Drew Pautz

Directed by Matthew Dunster

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Thursday 17th June 2010

This play set its stall out very effectively, but in a misleading way. The opening scene was set in a meeting room somewhere in a posh hotel in a major African city – I didn’t catch any names, and I got the impression it was meant to be generic. The attendees were all clerics, dog collars well to the fore, and since one was a woman, I assumed this was an Anglican shindig. The initial point being clarified was who wanted what to drink. It emerged later that this group had sequestered itself away to thrash out an agreement which included a wording about accepting different lifestyle choices (i.e. homosexuality), and for all we know that may have been the sole purpose of the meeting. The African delegates were having none of it, the lone woman was the only one who dared to speak up for the European and American congregations, and the archbishop, Stephen, was trying to encourage them all to play nice. Some hope! When I talked about them ‘thrashing’ out an agreement, it wasn’t entirely metaphorical.

When the coffee arrived, the group all closed their eyes, so as not to be influenced by any outsider. There was some humour in the way they chatted with the waiter, and he was certainly surprised to find everyone had their eyes shut. Only Jonathan Cullen’s character Michael opened his for a short spell near the end, as he tried to give the waiter a tip from the general contributions. After he left, the arguments went on, and showed no sign of doing anything but entrenching the opposing views even deeper.

This was good stuff, and since there were no program notes to give us a clue as to the overall direction of the piece, we naturally assumed that the themes of reconciliation, attitudes to homosexuality, and the way the west treats the rest of the world and vice versa, would be given a good airing. But no. The next scene shows us Michael and the waiter, Joseph, after they’ve had sex. Joseph wants Michael to take him back to England. Michael is appalled at the idea, and there’s a very stuttering conversation which darkens into menace and even violence, when Joseph shows Michael that he’s taken Michael’s wallet and passport. He refuses to give the passport back, but Michael is saved by the arrival of Daniel (yes, they all had tediously obvious biblical names, apart from Shelley, Michael’s wife). This scene felt very dated. Homosexuality may not always get an easy ride still, but it is talked about more openly than was shown here, and if all we were meant to understand from this scene was Michael’s discomfort with his own actions, then we could cheerfully lose about three-quarters of the dialogue, as we got that point very early on.

The next scene, which took us up to the interval, was set back in England, in winter, in Michael and Shelley’s house. I must confess to dozing off a bit at this point – there was so little to keep me awake. Basically, they dodge and spar around three subjects – at least Michael does the dodging – but they’re both showing the wear and tear of a problematic relationship. The subjects are their difficulty having a child, Michael’s recent obsession with reading the Bible at home, even on weekdays, and the removal of a squirrel family from their loft. I have no idea what we were meant to get from this, none whatsoever.

The second half also began with a good scene, this time Michael having a management meeting at the envelope-making company which he owns. He wants to add church donation envelopes to their range, what with the reduction in letter sending, but his team aren’t enthusiastic. They’ve clearly had enough of his attempts to sanctify the workplace by removing the porno calendars and putting up religiously symbolic pictures of light shining through clouds instead. One chap was brave enough to point out that they didn’t know what to expect when he came into work – nice Michael who was considerate and understanding, or money-man Michael, all nose to the grindstone and telling the staff off if they made a mistake. When Michael asked what they thought he should do, the lone woman (again) suggested he kill off one of the Michaels, so that at least the other one would have a chance to make things work, a very funny moment.

Shortly after this, Shelley arrives. She wants to know who Joseph is, Michael is reluctant to tell her, they bicker (the staff have left the room by this time), and before you know it, they’re getting ready to have sex on the table. The scene ends with a knock on the door at a most inopportune time. Very funny.

I think the next scene is the final one. Daniel and Stephen, the nice Archbishop, turn up in the basement of Michael’s local church, to prepare for some speech that Stephen will be making shortly upstairs. They discover Joseph hiding out there, with Michael’s help, and the whole story unravels. Daniel, who appears to be some kind of spin doctor for the Archbishop, is totally wound up at the prospect of a gay liaison being uncovered at a local church, and while the Archbishop is actually there! Stephen seems to be more concerned about the welfare of Michael and Joseph.

We also get to see the scars on Joseph’s back, so we know just how bad things were for him back in Africa. Other than that, there’s not a lot to this scene. It ends with Joseph, smartly dressed in a suit, heading up the stairs to the main body of the church, but to do what, we hadn’t a clue. Michael is left, cringing in despair in the basement, but again, we’ve no idea why. The music swells, the light shines through the stained glass window, and all to no effect as far as I was concerned.

With plays like this, I feel I miss out because I was never brought up in an organised religion. I’ve learned a few things along the way, but sometimes the arcane methods and practices of these groups are so obscure to me that I reckon a lot of the subtler points miss me by a mile. I have no idea why we were being shown these things, or what we were supposed to get out of the piece. We both felt there was a good play in there, with some moments that work very well on stage, but it needs a lot of work to make the grade from our point of view.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Stop Messing About – June 2010

6/10

By Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer

Directed by Michael Kingsbury

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 11th June 2010

This radio series originally followed on from Round The Horne, just as this show is building on the success of that program’s stage tours in previous years. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as funny as the earlier shows; the humour seemed more dated, with references to products and radio stations, etc. that folk younger than us might struggle to recognise, and the lack of an ‘authority’ figure like Kenneth Horne weakened the mix. And of course, there was no Julian and Sandy sketch.

Even so, there were a number of very good sketches, such as the legal chap reporting on recent cases, the phone-ins and the film adaptations. The presenter for this show was Douglas Smith, and he and Joan Sims flirted with and flattered each other outrageously throughout the evening, while Kenneth Williams threw his usual strop in each half, and Hugh Paddick also inserted some of his other work, as well as taking over the important special effects, per Equity regulations, from the lowly presenter – another bit that worked well. The set was similar to the Round The Horne ones, but updated to reflect the Sixties style. All in all, an enjoyable night out.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Inside Job – June 2010

6/10

By Brian Clemens

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 9th June 2010

A decent thriller this, even though both Steve and I had worked out what was happening before the end. It’s set in Spain, where a husband and wife each hire the same ex-pat criminal to kill the other, promising insurance money and/or diamonds to pay for it. There were a couple of explosions, a bloody corpse, and more twists and turns than a mountain road. The cast all did a respectable job, with Matt Healy having more tongue in his cheek than the others. What with slurping drinks, rattling ice, and crinkling ice cream wrappers, the audience were almost noisier than the action on stage during the opening scene of the second half, but on the whole it was enjoyable enough.

The play starts with the wife, Suzy, having lured ‘Larry’ to the villa with the promise of sex, offering a completely different proposition. She’s found out that ‘Larry’ is, in fact, ‘Dutch’ Holland, a criminal on the run from the British police. She wants to get away from her husband, and persuades Dutch to return later to rob the safe – it’s supposed to have £100,000 worth of diamonds in it – and split the proceeds with her.

He agrees, but when he tries to carry out the robbery, the husband, Alex, surprises him, and despite being apparently shot and killed, manages to recover and turn the tables on the robber. The bullets were blanks, of course, but now Alex reloads with the real thing, and carries out the sort of conversation with Dutch that only ever happens in thrillers. Finally, he comes out with his own proposition – Dutch will carry out another robbery, only this time, Alex will have a cast-iron alibi and Suzy will be killed instead. The life insurance of £300,000 is dangled to tempt Dutch, but in reality he will have the diamonds which are not yet in the safe, but which will be arriving in a few days, and which are also, coincidentally, worth £300,000.

They do some planning then, and also the next day, when Alex sends Suzy off on a wild goose chase to pick up some cigars so that he and Dutch can confer alone. However, Dutch has already tipped Suzy off, and when she shows him letters from the insurance company which indicate that her life insurance has lapsed, but Alex’s cover is still active, it doesn’t take much brain power to work out where this one is going. There’s another twist, though, when Suzy returns from the cigar shop. After parking the car, she heads for the house and is nearly there when the car blows up! Who’s attempting to kill whom?

The second half starts about an hour after the explosion. Suzy has cleaned herself up, and Dutch is waiting with her while Alex is off dealing with the police. Dutch suggests killing Alex for the insurance money, explaining how he could set it up to give her the perfect alibi. He would come along, take the diamonds, kill Alex, and then tie her up so it will look like the robbers (she has to tell the police it was two men) were trying to get the combination of the safe out of her when Alex came back and was killed. It means she’ll have to wait through the night for someone to find her, but he’s even planned a reason for him to call the police to get them to come over and check up on Alex and find her. It seems like a foolproof plan, but can she trust him, and vice versa?

Then Alex comes up with another idea himself. His car is similar to the local mayor’s, and he suggested to the police that separatists may have targeted the mayor and blown up his car by mistake. He plans to use this to enhance the cover story they’ve been working on, but it means redirecting the police to think that he was the target of the car bomb all along. If only he could get a bomb! By an amazing coincidence, it turns out Dutch is a ‘bang-man’, specialising in bombs and fires, and he agrees to supply a small device so that Alex can blow up a yacht he has in the marina. When Alex sets off with the bomb, using Dutch’s car, both Steve and I wondered if the bomb would actually stay in Dutch’s car, to blow him up later, but a short while later there’s an explosion in the marina. So that’s alright, then. On the way back, Alex is picking up the diamonds, so the scene is almost set for the murder, but which one is going to be killed?

The final scene has the room in disarray, with Alex drinking wildly, when Dutch turns up. Apparently Alex has jumped the gun and killed Suzy already. He shows Dutch (and us) the dead body in the kitchen, behind the curtain, and offers him all the diamonds to help him out of the hole he’s dug for himself. Dutch agrees, and with some ties from the Alex’s wardrobe, he adapts the plan he outlined to Suzy for the new circumstances. Now it’s Alex who’ll be tied up, and will have to tell the police that two masked men burst in, demanded he open the safe, and then killed Suzy when she came back from her walk. Only it doesn’t work out that way.

Once Alex is safely trussed up, and Dutch has the diamonds and the loaded gun, he explains to Alex what’s really going to happen. I won’t go into all the details, but basically he’s going to cause a huge fireball in the room using some candles and a build-up of gas. No evidence will be left, and he’ll be free and clear. He gloats about as long as is safe, and then buggers off. As soon as he’s gone, Suzy comes out of the kitchen, blows out the candles and turns off the gas. As we’d suspected, Suzy and Alex were working together to bring Dutch to justice, since the British police had been unable to do so. In fact, Alex was a Detective Inspector, and Dutch had killed Suzy’s brother, so they both had a strong motive to nail him.

Having told the police that a suspected bomber was heading down the hill in a blue Mercedes, and with Dutch’s little bomb safely stowed in the boot (Alex had made his own for the marina explosion) they hope the police will either catch him and put him away for the rest of his natural, or get a bit trigger-happy and avoid the need for a trial. There is some machine-gun fire, as it happens, but Dutch gets away, and of course he ends up back at the villa to confront the duplicitous pair who tricked him. The gun still has blanks in it, and after firing at them, he collapses on the floor, revealing the three bullet holes in his back. The end.

We’d guessed most of this long before the end. We both wondered if Suzy would come to life before Dutch left, and kill him on his way out. He even stopped several times in front of the curtain, just to tease us, I suppose. That Alex and Suzy were working together to bring Dutch down occurred to each of us about half way through, although we didn’t know the details. An interesting challenge.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Ruffian On The Stair – June 2010

6/10

By Joe Orton

Directed by Emma Faulkner

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Tuesday 8th June 2010

This was the second piece in the Directors’ Showcase. I think the program said this was Orton’s first play. It certainly felt like an early piece, though the themes of homosexuality, religion and death were strongly evident, as was the use of commonplace, even banal language with slightly ‘off’ behaviour to bring about a strong sense of menace.

Joyce and Mike live in a small flat, not much more than a bedsit. He’s an Irish enforcer type with misogyny running through him like Brighton rock. Almost as deeply imbedded are his religious principles, although they don’t deter him from bumping off the occasional victim at the behest of some unspecified crime boss.

Joyce used to work as a prostitute, but now she lives with Mike in a pretend marriage, putting up with his bullying ways either because she knows nothing else or because she’s too scared to try for something better. Or both. Along comes Wilson, who turns out to be the very loving brother of Frankie, the most recent chap to have been mown down by Mike’s van. Apart from freaking Joyce out with some seriously anti-social behaviour (this being the sixties, there was no one else around to witness his activities – remember them days?) his intention seems to be to commit suicide by having Mike shoot him over his, Wilson’s, supposed affair with Joyce, or Maddy, as she used to be known (and definitely in the biblical sense). I did wonder briefly if he also intended to get Mike arrested for killing him, to get some sort of justice for Frankie, but then I realised I’ve been watching too many crime dramas.

To be fair to Wilson, he did apologise to Joyce several times for any inconvenience he was causing her, like getting her rather violent ex-boxer of a pretend husband to think she’d been unfaithful to him, but there was a silver lining to all of this. When Mike actually considered killing her, the prospect of spending the rest of his life alone was too scary to handle, so he decided he loved her, and wanted to stay with her. It’s possibly the most romantic moment in the whole of Orton’s oeuvre.

So at the end of the play, Wilson is lying dead on the floor of the flat, just as he wanted all along, Mike and Joyce are as close as they’re ever likely to be (he’s going to tell the police he shot Wilson to defend Joyce from being attacked) and the only real casualty, apart from the pre-deceased Frankie, is the poor goldfish, whose bowl was smashed by a stray bullet. Still, it gave us one of the best closing lines I’ve ever heard in a play. As Mike comforts Joyce, telling her he’ll call for the police to sort it all out, he reminds her that they, too, have wives. And goldfish. Excellent finish.

The set was much more complicated for this one. In front of us was a sink cabinet, with both shaving and washing up equipment – I could smell the coal tar soap. To the left of that was a sideboard, then the door to the bedroom in the corner. Diagonally opposite us was the sofa, with a comfy chair to the left, a table in front of it, and a small cabinet to the right which held the crucifix and a small statue of the Virgin Mary. The outer door was in the far right corner, and to our right was the kitchen table and chairs. Props and costumes were all wonderfully period.

I realised watching this that one of the reasons I don’t get on so well with some writers such as Orton and Beckett is that I wasn’t brought up a Catholic, or any particular religion for that matter. I often feel there’s something I’m missing when I watch these plays, and perhaps there is. Still, I got most of the humour today, and I certainly found it uncomfortably menacing at times. The performances were perfection, and I only rated it 6/10 because there was so little to it. At fifty minutes long, it certainly packed in the action, but it took a little too long to establish Wilson’s connection to Mike, and the unpleasantness of both men towards Joyce was never going to endear me to the play.

Post-show. There were several attempts by one gentleman in the upper level to hijack the discussion with a solo diatribe on the awfulness of the first piece, Tom’s A-cold. Fortunately the audience and the two young directors (Sam sent his apologies) managed to fend him off.

Lora found her play through attending a play reading at Oxford(?) several years ago, and had wanted to put it on stage since then, so this was the perfect opportunity. Emma found it quite hard to select her play. Her remit was to find a short piece by a well-known writer which used three or four characters, and ran for only fifty minutes. It took months, but finally she thought of Orton and discovered this play, which she hadn’t known before. They each had to direct on their own this time – no assistants for the first-time directors – although they did the casting process together. I got the impression that as well as learning a lot about what the director’s job entails, they’ve also started to establish their network of contacts, which can be so important in many areas of life.

Apparently we were a quite sophisticated audience – not too many of us fell asleep, and we laughed at some of the jokes. Our quick response to the second line of Ruffian told them we were with the cast from the off. Perhaps the grim nature of the first play made us more receptive to the humour of the second – we needed a good laugh by then – although both pieces were pretty dark. Many people enjoyed both of the plays, though in different ways, and the cast and directors were warmly applauded at the end.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me