Comedy of Errors – March 2011

10/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: 31st March 2011

This was about as perfect as a production of this play could be. When we were chatting this afternoon to the mechanic who was changing our tyre (long story) about the Tobacco Factory and the news that it was to receive funding from the Arts Council, we commented that with such a basic space to work in, all they could do was put on the actual play. Tonight this came true in such an amazing way that I felt I was watching the piece for the first time. Many lines of dialogue were completely new to me, and although there had to be some cuts to bring it in at just over two hours including an interval, the main sacrifice was the comedy business added in by most productions, and none the worse for that. In fact, there were some classic pieces of business that had us all in stitches, but I’ll come to those later.

The set was, as usual, simple. Each pillar had a lantern hanging by it, and two of the pillars had bench seats, the ones along our diagonal. In the far corner was a piano, and music was provided by this and a violinist. There were solid wooden doors with studs in various entranceways, and the usual furnishings came on and off as needed, though the opening scene was unusually set in the Duke’s office, complete with desk, several chairs, and a secretary taking copious amounts of shorthand. Egeon’s tale was as moving as any I’ve seen, and the Duke’s reactions the most compassionate.

The introduction of Antipholus of Syracuse and his Dromio (A/S and D/S) was very well done. I hadn’t understood before the captain’s warning about the dangers to Syracusan merchants, and I was very aware this time that A/S’s confidence that his Dromio would never rob him, disappears very quickly under the slightest provocation. The rest of the introductory scenes worked very well, and it was not only clear who was who, but the characters themselves were beautifully drawn, from the seductive courtesan to the fawning goldsmith.

As the comic misunderstandings build through the first half, there were a couple of major laughs. Firstly, when Antipholus of Ephesus (A/E) tells his Dromio to knock on the door of his own house, the party are standing in the entranceway to our left, and Dromio simply mimes knocking on a door with sound effects being supplied from offstage. A/E takes over the knocking, and has several goes, but they include a (surely planned) mistake, with a knocking sound coming after A/E has finished. Both he and his friend look puzzled as to where this knocking sound could have come from, while the audience were all having a good laugh. The second occasion was D/S’s marvellous delivery of the line “Oh sir, I did not look so low”. Impossible to describe, sadly.

In the second half, we get the full set of characters, including the doctor, whose whitened face also caused much mirth when he commented that he could see A/E and D/E were mad by their white faces. The officer was wonderfully nervous about asserting his authority when A/E is being put in a straitjacket, and Adriana’s explanation to the Duke when she’s asking for redress was amazingly clear, given that she rushed through it at increasing speed. Of course, we know what’s happened, so it’s nice she didn’t dawdle, and they made good comic use of it as well.

Even though we have seen it all ourselves, I was very aware that the characters haven’t, and in particular, I recognised that A/E and D/E don’t actually know they have twin brothers, hence their confusion. Of course, there’s no excuse for the other two, whose whole trip is ostensibly to find the missing twins, but then we wouldn’t have the comedy if they weren’t incredibly slow on the uptake. So for this production, in the closing scenes, A/S is hugging everybody with great enthusiasm, while A/E is a bit wary at first. He does, after all, have to come to terms with a new father, new brother, new mother, and a twin to his servant. It worked very well, and by their final exit, he was ready to put his arm round his brother and head for the feast.

Two more pieces of staging really stood out for me, both in the final scene. One was when A/S, now revealed as a single man, approaches Luciana to reaffirm his earlier protestations of love. He had to hold it for a good long while though, as Luciana, with impeccable comic timing, had grasped the situation and whipped off her spinsterish spectacles before you could say ‘Specsavers’! The other thing I liked, especially as I was very moist about the eyes by this time (reunion scenes always affect me that way), was that the Abbess was herself in tears, tears of joy as she welcomed the family she thought lost so many years ago. Of course, she’s the one who passed on the thick-as-two-short-planks gene to A/S. We know this, because despite the most obvious appearance in front of her of two sets of twins, she seems genuinely perplexed by the question of what happened to her Antipholus and Dromio! Get a grip, woman. Still, it all adds to the fun.

There were also a couple of songs in this production, which I don’t remember from earlier versions. Each Dromio sings one, D/S when he and his Antipholus first arrive at Ephesus, and the other by D/E (assisted by his brother) at the start of the second half. With the concentration on dialogue, both Dromios came across as more witty than normal, and I could really see what A/S meant about how his Dromio cheered him up when he was a bit moody. All of the characters came across as more 3-D in fact, with both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ points. Adriana is certainly too shrewish, but her jealously is not delusional. Luciana was played as a prim spinster, and I suspect Adriana’s point about how Luciana would complain just as much if she had the same experiences, was totally valid. The casting was good, too, with both sets of twins having a strong resemblance.

This was an absolutely classic version of this play, which I’m very glad we got here in time to see.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Hamlet YPS – March 2011

6/10

By: William Shakespeare, edited by Bijan Sheibani and Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by: Tarell Alvin McCraney

Venue: Swan Theatre, Stratford

Date: Friday 25th March 2011

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as last time. I was much more tired this evening compared to last August, and the Swan was unfortunately very stuffy tonight, which accounts for some of the difference, but I also suspect that the change from the Courtyard to the Swan, much as we love the latter, may not have helped, as the rhythm of the piece seemed off tonight. The audience was very appreciative, mind you, so it wasn’t off by much.

From our position, we missed some of the items I noted up last time, such as the blue cloth for Ophelia’s drowning, and there were definitely some changes as there was only one bit of audience participation tonight, for the player king. This time they had two volunteers to fill the role, but they handled it well. I suspect there have been other changes, but I couldn’t spot anything specific. Good to see it again, though.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

King Lear – March 2011

9/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: David Farr

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 24th March 2011

Having reviewed my earlier notes, I’m glad to say I did enjoy this performance more than the earlier ones. Again, we didn’t notice any significant changes to the staging, although as Kathryn Hunter had left the company, we got to see Sophie Russell playing the Fool as part of the regular cast. She’d certainly come on for the practice, and I reckon I enjoyed this Fool the best, with the dialogue coming across very clearly throughout.

The improvement was again down to the actors having greater understanding of their parts, coupled with more experience of working with each other in lots of different spaces, and I suspect there may even be a boost from the new theatre itself, an adrenalin rush to be opening the new house that we’ve waited for for so long. I certainly felt the set fitted very well into the new space, and although the new stage is smaller than the Courtyard, the action didn’t seem cramped at all. Unlike the poor people sitting in the front row round this side, who complained of a lack of leg room.

I’m not sure if Cordelia and Edmund’s delivery had improved since we saw this back in August; my notes remind me that their vocal skills were better then. It’s possible they’ve come on even more since that performance, though my aural memory isn’t good enough to tell.

James Gale wasn’t in it tonight, but I’ll have to check the programs to see what’s happened there. [We found out he’d also left the company, although this was due to ill-health, sadly.]

Anyway, a marvellous performance, which I felt took me to a very dark place, and brought me back again, just. I had some tears at the usual places, and I found I didn’t mind that some people were laughing at Lear’s mad behaviour when he meets Gloucester, while I was simply moved to compassion by his suffering. I also felt that cutting Edgar’s lines here was right, as the two ‘old men’ were providing all the emotional input that was needed; Edgar’s comments would have been a distraction. Greg Hicks was magnificent as Lear, really getting into the emotions of the part, and I’m very glad we saw this one last time.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Tempest – March 2011

6/10

By: William Shakespeare, edited by Peter Glanville and Phil Porter

Directed by: Peter Glanville

Venue: Swan Theatre, Stratford

Date: Thursday 24th March 2011

Interesting to see another collaboration between the RSC and Little Angel. This was similar to a Young Person’s Shakespeare, in that it was trimmed to an hour and a quarter, but the use of puppets made it a bit special. The audience included youngsters of all age groups, and while I felt the performance overall lacked atmosphere, there was a lot to enjoy in the interpretations, puppetry and music.

The cuts were deep, but they didn’t distort the story, nor leave me feeling I was missing out in any way. The shipwreck that begins the play was done as a puppetry mime with a wooden boat which obligingly split apart and was finally whirled off the stage to represent the apparent disaster. I had hoped to see it again, restored, but the need to work through all the much-doubled characters at the end presumably made that impossible. Prospero’s tale to Miranda, which can often put the audience to sleep long before Miranda gets heavy-eyed, was not only brief, but Prospero used a chess board and pieces to demonstrate the characters and story. This chess board makes a second appearance later, of course; here it was a useful tool and very engaging.

The shipwrecked lords are reduced to the basic four, and much of their dialogue is cut, as is the comedy with Trinculo and Stephano (“for this relief, much thanks”), and the drunk fighting stirred up by Ariel. The final scene is also minimalist, with Prospero having to deal with several groups of characters independently, and we’re left at the end with Caliban and a few seagulls, alone on the island.

The seagulls opened the play as well, and this was the first time I felt the pace was a bit too slow. Four seagulls coming on and flapping around, landing on various raised points and squawking a lot may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t inject much energy into the opening section. While admiring the skill of the puppeteers, the gulls themselves never folded their wings, which looked a bit bizarre (we see a lot of them down our way, so I should know). There were several occasions like this, when the puppets were on stage for too long, and while sometimes this may have been to give the actors time for a quick change, that can’t have been the case at the start. If this aspect was tightened up, I think the whole piece would benefit.

The set itself was brilliant. At the back of the stage was a massive chunk of decayed ship, with its timbers curved round like whale ribs, and providing a marvellously imaginative acting space, as well as setting the scene magnificently. Some piles of books were scattered around the stage, and there was a cloth curtain which came down in front of the ship’s remains a couple of time to good effect; otherwise, the stage was bare. The costumes were elaborate yet simple. Prospero looked like a man who’d been left on an island for many years, with pretty scruffy clothes and a rather wild expression – not quite Ben Gunn, but the scent of toasted cheese was definitely wafting up the foreshore. Miranda had a remarkably nice outfit for a girl who’d been castaway as a three-year-old, but it’s The Tempest, so who cares? The nobles were in splendid gear, very rich looking, and the king of Naples’ coat and hat were actually displayed to Ferdinand early on, which made it easy for us to recognise him later. Nice touch. Trinculo and Stephano were in livery, not so grand but clearly they work for someone important. Caliban didn’t have any clothes at all, and not even much of a body, poor chap, but I’ll come to him later.

After the seagulls have departed, Prospero starts the storm by running his staff up a curved plank of the ship, like striking a match. He has to do this a few times before the storm ‘lights’ (ain’t that the way of it?), and then the wooden ship does its dance of destruction. After explaining their situation to Miranda, he puts her to sleep under the ship’s planks, and calls for Ariel. Naturally, Ariel is manifested by a puppet, about two feet high(?), wearing a green outfit and having filmy wings which fluttered as he flew around the stage. I wasn’t taken with him at first, though I did get used to him, but the only time I found him expressive enough was when he curled up into a foetal ball when Prospero reminded him of Sycorax. When putting the lords to sleep, he put his hand on their head.

Caliban, on the other hand, was a much more robust specimen. He was bigger than the humans, quite lumbering, with holes in his body where the ribs showed through, a big monster-like face and a tail. It’s a bit of a leap to imagine him as a person that Prospero and Miranda would have civilised, but then we’re used to seeing human actors take this part. With all the talking dinosaurs, ants, whales, etc. that throng our screens these days, I suspect the younger folk in the audience at least would find him plausible. He did endear himself to us, though, and I felt quite sorry for him at the end. As someone said later, what would these youngsters think when they next see the play and are confronted with a more ‘traditional’ Caliban? It would be interesting to find out.

The furies that terrify the lords at the mock feast were delivered on large platter with domed covers, looking like a delicious meal. When the lids came off, they were three more puppets with monster-like ambitions, one of which was right beside us. The garment scene involved two beautiful dresses which take on a life of their own and dance with Stephano until they suddenly turn inside out and become two snarling dogs which chase them away from the stage. Beautifully done.

The masque scene was done by having Prospero open his book to two reflective pages, and with the curtain down, he directed a spotlight onto the curtain to represent a spirit form, while the part was sung by one of the actresses. After this, the light came from behind the curtain, and we saw two wire puppets, with the suggestion of human shape, moving around behind the curtain until Ferdinand and Miranda came forward and merged with these other shapes within a beam of heart-shaped light. Quite magical.

Other nice touches included the doll that Miranda carried at the start. It’s a miniature image of her, and once she meets Ferdinand she leaves it behind. Prospero sees this, and from the way he picks it up and holds it, it’s clear he recognises that his little girl isn’t a girl anymore. David Fielder as Prospero was very good, so much so that I would love to see him play the part in a full-scale production some time.

The music was new, and mainly consisted of songs that told the story from time to time. I quite enjoyed them – they’re a talented lot, these actors – but it didn’t add much, and some folk felt it slowed things down too much.

So not a bad attempt to blend the puppetry in with action, but the performance was a bit slow-paced for me to really get into it.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Romeo and Juliet – March 2011

5/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Rupert Goold

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 23rd March 2011

This was a significant improvement on the performance we saw last year. Still deeply flawed, this production has become more balanced, partly by toning down the worst excesses of the early days, but also, sadly, by ‘clowning up’ the main parts to make them fit better with the comedy style. Well, it’s a choice, I suppose.

Firstly, the bits that have gone, or were reduced in some way. The flashes of fire almost completely disappeared, and the video projections were very muted, so we were clearly in Verona this time. Some steam still rose occasionally from the vents, but that was minimal too, and much more effective as a result. The opening fight seemed quicker this time, and Steve reckoned there were fewer knives discarded by Capulet – I wasn’t so sure – although the attempted burning of Benvolio was still included. This time, though, I found it very contrived, as our position round the side meant I could clearly see the people waiting in the wings to bring on the post and rag, etc.

For the party scene, the music was much quieter, and we could actually hear the dialogue between Capulet and Tybalt – hooray! It was well delivered too. After the party, when Mercutio and Benvolio are looking for Romeo, Mercutio’s obscene mime was definitely shorter, even though it was still getting laughs, mainly from the younger members of the audience; I wondered if Jonjo O’Neill was getting a bit bored with it.

The lines about Romeo and rosemary both beginning with an ‘R’ were gone, and I wondered if in fact the time we heard them before was a mistake. Perhaps the lines had been cut, but were accidentally said by whoever, because the conversation ended abruptly without making sense. I was conscious that it must be very hard for actors to constantly chop and change their lines each night, and mistakes are bound to happen from time to time. The winding up of Tybalt had been cut a bit as well, and the fight itself seemed more serious. The golden display which bookends the interval was less over-the-top, and the final scene was almost completely reworked (see below).

Bits that were still much the same included Juliet’s twirly toy, the use of the stools as stepping stones when she heads off to Friar Laurence’s cell, her painful spasms after taking the Friar’s potion, the use of a singing telegram to bring Romeo the news of Juliet’s death, and Lady Capulet running a couple of times around Juliet’s death bed, although this action was presented more clearly as being linked to her call for help, so it seemed more natural this time.

Fresh disasters included a Benvolio who appeared to be auditioning for the role of Igor in a remake of Young Frankenstein – his gurning and manic prowling were completely inappropriate. Romeo also took to making strange prancing movements during the balcony scene, which upped the humour quotient a bit, but lowered the believability of the lovers. In fact, I didn’t buy these two as lovers at all this time round, snogging notwithstanding, mainly because Juliet saw Romeo a few times during the dance and ignored him, then suddenly she’s desperate to kiss him just because he grabbed her by the hand? I don’t think so.

I also had a fit of the (silent-ish) giggles early on. We’d had a talk from Dr Penelope Freedman this afternoon in which she’d commented on the variety of accents, so I was more attuned to them tonight. When Del Boy Montague opened his mouth, I had this vision of some barrow boy who’d built up his retail empire from nothing, was given a title, married a bit of posh, and was now one of Verona’s gentry. At least it kept me amused.

Last time, Steve had noticed Tybalt and Lady Capulet having a kiss during the party scene. This time, they were really going at it, apparently (he didn’t give me a nudge so I could check it out for myself – I was watching the rest of the action). This certainly explained Lady Capulet’s grief at Tybalt’s death, and her intense desire for revenge, but as it’s not textually based, and adds nothing to the main story, I couldn’t see the point of it, although it was well enough acted. I suppose it did underline the fact that arranged marriages aren’t necessarily happy ones -do we need a reminder? – and for a few moments I also toyed with the idea that perhaps Juliet was Tybalt’s child instead of Capulet’s, but that seemed unlikely.

Another thing that didn’t work for me was the attempt to blend so many styles, specifically the reality-based modern dress parts and the Elizabethan costume stylised, bordering on surreal, bits. For example, Juliet’s toy-twirling while her mother’s talking to her about marriage is very in-your-face reality, but her mother has asked the nurse to leave to have some privacy with her daughter, yet she has three or four women dressing her at that point. OK, she recalls the nurse, but the discrepancy jarred a bit, though not as much as the fact that Lady Capulet appears to be getting herself done up as an extra from Gormenghast.

The variety of approaches with Juliet’s performance also troubled me a lot. Portraying her as a little girl one minute, then a randy teenager the next, then a sensible young woman who understands a great deal about life….. I know girls and boys of that age can fluctuate between child and adult as they mature, but this was too much to be believable. It didn’t feel like considered character development so much as a pick’n’mix of performances to suit the needs of the moment. However, Mariah Gale delivered the dialogue better than most, which got me through most of her scenes. Only the pre-potion scene jarred, as she recounted the terrible things that might happen as if she were a child happily going over all the really cool gruesome bits of a frog dissection, rather than a young woman who’s facing some potential horrors, and screwing her courage “to the sticking point”.

So what did work better this time around? Well, Capulet in particular was played much more seriously, and the scene where Juliet refuses to marry Paris was considerably more powerful as a result. I could feel Capulet’s anger, and the threat to Juliet was very real. While the balcony scene suffered from Romeo’s extra clowning, the overlaid scenes between Juliet and the nurse, and Romeo and the Friar, worked very well this time. I was actually starting to get emotionally involved, though of course it was a bit late by this time. I particularly liked the way Romeo stood up for himself and pointed out to the Friar that he couldn’t know how Romeo felt because he wasn’t in Romeo’s situation, and since the Friar was presumably celibate (not guaranteed, I know), it’s a reasonable argument, even if Romeo was making it in the heat of passion.

When the family discover Juliet dead, as they think, I was aware of how much suffering they’re going through, and it crossed my mind that the Friar was doing more harm than good in more ways than one. I also felt that the reason for Friar John  being delayed actually seemed quite plausible this time, given that plague of various sorts did the rounds from time to time all over Europe and beyond.

But I think the greatest improvement was in the ending. As we watched the beginning of the play, with ‘Romeo’ appearing to run into the church/cathedral as if escaping something, and the hint of a siren in the background(?), I felt as if he was coming straight from the tomb scene, a modern person caught in some time-warp loop and doomed to repeat the same tragic story over and over again. However, the revised final scene added a new dimension to that. Instead of the mix of costumes as before, the live characters, Friar Laurence excepted, are all in modern dress, and after Friar Laurence’s explanation of the situation, and a few of the Duke’s lines, the actor who played Balthazar enters, in similar clothes to ‘Romeo’ at the start, wearing headphones, and hearing the audio guide in the Italian accent reciting the closing lines. Spooky. A much shorter ending, removing even more than the previous cuts, but tying it all up much better, and lifting the production considerably further out of the mire. Steve also felt it suggested that the underlying problems of the story are with us still in the present, and are not just historical. He could see the original ‘Romeo’ as a contemporary person who was actually banished, and this was him escaping to the quiet of a church, then getting caught up in a historical version of the same love tragedy, but with the final scene reverting to the present day, hence the modern dress for the other characters. Interesting idea

So not such a bad experience as before, and although it was too patchy for me to enthuse about it, we both enjoyed ourselves much more than we anticipated. It’s also a good reminder of how much a production can change over time, and particularly with Rupert Goold, who to his credit is willing not only to take risks with his productions, but to change and refine them when needed.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Chosen Ones – March 2011

5/10

By: Philip Gladwin

Directed by: Patric Kearns

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 15th March 2011

This just scraped a 5/10 rating, despite a host of problems. The theatre was unbelievably stuffy, the people in front of us were tall enough to block our view for most of the time, the dialogue, when we could hear it, was pretty weak, the casting of a much younger actor as the father who was meant to be in his fifties didn’t work that well, and yet I found I managed to enjoy myself enough for the 5/10 rating. Perhaps the fact that I snoozed through about twenty minutes of the first half helped. Steve tried to fill me in, but either I didn’t miss that much or the situation developed really slowly, as he wasn’t able to add a lot.

The set was fairly simple. To the left, the patio area of a house. Round the back, a picket fence with central gate. There were three loungers in front of the patio, and a bench on the right. Leafless branches hung from above suggested a country garden. The costumes were modern.

The characters on stage at the start were a father and his two children, a  son and a daughter. With no clear age difference, it took us while to establish the relationships, but it emerged that the daughter was due to get married soon, the son was about to head off to Hong Kong to work in some new business venture, and they were spending the weekend with their father to celebrate his birthday. His business was going through a tricky patch, nothing he couldn’t handle, but he was concerned about the possibility of losing his biggest customer. They bicker a bit, but seem to be relatively happy with each other. The house and garden are fairly remote, with the nearest neighbour being two miles away. After the initial chat, they settle down for some serious sunbathing.

At this point, another character appears by the fence on the right, a young man. He looks at the family, then walks round to the gate at the back, and enters very quietly. He picks up some pebbles and throws one at the girl, who tells her brother to lay off. After another pebble, she looks round, and sees the stranger. The father recognises him as Callum, who’s being working on the garden, and he invites him to stay a while.

This is where I started to have problems with the performance. The young man was talking, but I couldn’t make out a word. After quite a while I managed to get that he was speaking with a Scouse accent, although the dialogue describes it as a bit Manchester, a bit Scottish, a bit of everything. It certainly wasn’t that mixed, but it was so strong I often had problem with Callum’s dialogue in the first half, although I did find it easier to follow in the second half. He starts to spin a story for the family, about his hard life, etc. (I confess I didn’t hear it all), and then when the son and father are off stage getting drinks, he seduces the daughter into giving him a snog – very weird. The father and son are appalled at this – she is going to be married after all – but before Callum leaves, he shows the father a ‘present’ he’s brought him, a silver bracelet with an inscription inside which the father recognises. After all, he gave Callum’s mother the bracelet many years ago during their affair, an affair which produced Callum. So with Callum being revealed as a newcomer to the family, the situation changes a bit. Still creepy, but the father wants to include Callum so they all make a bit of an effort. Unfortunately, Callum has other ideas.

This is where I snoozed, and when I came to the son was confessing that his business deal involved taking his father’s best customer from him, after Callum exposed his calls to ‘Mike’ as actually being to ’Steve’, the father’s friend and ex-best customer. The daughter had already been outed as a slut, who regularly cheated on her boyfriends with other men. She’d apparently decided not to marry James, her fiancé, as she realises it wouldn’t be fair on him. The father was coming in for a bit of stick as well, given that he’d admitted cheating on his wife. His son’s complaints were that the father had never involved him in the business, so that he’d had to make his own way, so his dad deserved what he got.

All of this is bad enough, but things get worse when the father tries to eject Callum again. He draws a gun out of his rucksack, and threatens them all with it. Curtain. At the start of the second half, they’re all still in the garden, and Callum’s plan begins to get going. He wants to know why the father chose to stay with his wife and children instead of leaving them to be with the woman he loved, Callum’s mother, and of course, Callum himself. His mother apparently went a bit batty after her rejection, although she never said a bad word about the father. She kept moving around, giving Callum a difficult upbringing, not to mention a whole heap of resentment, and was also dead now. The father explains that it was seeing his two children, the son aged about four holding his new baby sister, that made him decide to stay with his wife. He claims it was a terribly hard decision to make, and goes on a bit about how much he suffered, but basically he chose his two legitimate children over his lover and their son. He also managed to tell his lover he was leaving her shortly before she was due to give birth – there’s tact for you.

So now for Callum’s revenge. Getting them all to handcuff themselves to the bench, he tries to force the father to choose which of these two children he will choose to live, and which to die. He then heads off into the house to get some brandy, giving the father about twenty minutes to make his mind up. This allows the family to each have their say, the daughter all repentant and snivelling, the son brash and unrepentant. When Callum returns, he threatens them all with the gun, and finally the father tells him to shoot the son. This is what Callum wants to hear; he’s not going to shoot anyone, in fact he gives them the keys so they can unlock themselves. The father tackles him, kicks him while he’s down, then takes the gun and makes as if to shoot him. But the father has been counting the bullets, and knows there’s none left. Callum doesn’t, which tells the father he wasn’t much good as a soldier, probably why he was thrown out of the army. However, the damage is done, as the son isn’t too happy with the father’s choice. He leaves with the daughter, and Callum gloats that he’s won. The final tableau has the father and Callum alone on stage, with father moving from his knees into a sitting position.

This was all very well, but the questions remain. How did Callum know about all the family secrets? He obviously knew about the father’s affair as he was a direct result, but the son’s business dealings? The daughter’s affairs? And how did he know who his father was? We have to assume his mother told him, but it’s not clear. There were other problems with the plot, but overall it kept me watching with a reasonable amount of interest. We both felt the piece could have done with a lot of cutting, and might have done better as TV piece with a stronger cast. Still, the audience was fuller than last time, and the applause was good, which is important when the future of the Connaught is in the balance.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Black Veil – March 2011

Rating: 5/10

By: John Goodrum, based on a short story by Charles Dickens

Directed by: Bruce James

Venue: Connaught Theatre, Worthing

Date: Friday 4th March 2011

This production was by the same team that gave us The Signalman back in 2009. We both felt this wasn’t such a good adaptation; in particular, the opening scene was too long-winded, with the veiled lady going on at great length about her distress while not actually getting round to explaining her concerns. I admit to nodding off during this scene, but Steve brought me up to speed at the interval.

The set was a bit sparse, even for a touring production, and perhaps part of the problem was that the open nature of the acting space reduced the atmosphere. In any case, the second half worked better for us once the third character turned up and the plot began to unravel nicely.

The story was simple enough to begin with. A young doctor gets a visit late at night from an elderly, frail lady who is wearing  thick black veil. She has come to the doctor for help, but claims that he can’t actually do anything. Instead of turfing her out, he insists on getting involved, and agrees to come to her lodgings the next morning even though it will be too late, the man she wants him to help is already dead! From various clues, it sounds as though the man she’s talking about – her son – is due to be executed, but it’s never made clear (at least not while I was awake). We do find out that the young doctor, whose practice hasn’t got going yet, which is why he’s keen to accept any patient at all, was engaged to be married to a young woman, but called it off when he saw how she treated her bedridden mother. He had since become engaged to another lady, and was only waiting to establish his medical practice and earn a decent income before he can marry her, as he  has to obtain her brother’s approval.

The next day, he arrives very early at the hard-to-find address down by the docks. The woman brings him in, but doesn’t show him the ‘patient’ right away. There’s a short pause, and then she leads him up to the bedroom where a man lies on the bed. He appears to have been hung, and life is quite extinct. Then things take a turn for the worse, as a violent thug arrives, banging on the door demanding to be let in. The woman explained that this thug was responsible for her son’s death. The two men had become involved in some burglary, and during it a security guard was killed. Her son was caught and convicted of the murder, while the man who had actually done it got off scot free. This was the man who was banging on the door, although when he got in and confronted them both, he told a different story. His version had the son killing the guard, but his own actions suggested a homicidal streak which made it more likely he was the guilty party.

Then the story changes completely, as the doctor is told to look closely at the dead man, and asked if he recognises him. He doesn’t, but it’s not surprising, as he’s never met his fiancée’s brother. It turns out that the dead man is indeed the brother of the doctor’s fiancée, lured to London by a forged letter which appeared to be from the doctor, inviting the brother down to London to see for himself the doctor’s lovely lodgings, and killed just before the doctor himself entered the room. The trap has been set – the dead man, and the doctor’s arrival just before he died, will make it look as if the doctor killed him in order to marry his fiancée without needing the brother’s consent. The forged letter, in the doctor’s own handwriting, will clinch the deal. But who has set this trap?

Well, it takes a little while, but the thug reveals himself to be a man who deeply loved the previous fiancée whom the doctor jilted. Once rejected, the young lady apparently pined away, and this revenge was plotted by the lover and the young lady’s mother, the elderly lady in the veil. The mother then began to criticise the doctor, telling him that she’d been happy with the way her daughter treated her, and asking him what it was that she had said which had made the doctor break off the engagement. Well, it was all too unlikely for me, and it wasn’t long before the old lady was exposed as the young lady, and the similarity with Fatal Attraction became clear. Naturally, she’d killed off her mother, by leaving her food outside her door so she starved to death, but she’s still obsessed with knowing what her mother had said that affected the doctor so much he broke off the engagement. He assures her there wasn’t anything, just her treatment of her mother, but she’s well gone by now. There’s a mad chase outside the house, and then first the lover, then the deranged ex-fiancée end up in the river. Whew.

The final twists and turns were enjoyable enough, but the piece could do with some serious cutting to make it more tense. The performances were good enough, and I’d be happy to see future adaptations by this company.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me