Uncle Vanya – April 2012


By Anton Chekov, translated by Michael Frayn

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 26th April 2012

Although the main performances had come on from our earlier visit, I found I didn’t get much more enjoyment out of the evening, as this version focused more on the period specifics rather than the wider issues. I was more aware of the Russian background to the piece and less about the people and their relevance to our times, although the environmental concerns were are topical as ever. Still, it’s a good production, and deserves to get a transfer if they can work out the details.

Yelena’s performance was probably the most changed from last time. I’d felt before that Lara Pulver wasn’t sufficiently glamorous in the role; not so tonight. She drifted languorously across the stage, fully justifying Vanya’s descriptions of her, and I couldn’t decide whether her sexual posturing was completely unconscious on her part, or whether she was doing some of it deliberately. Her relationship with Sonya was much clearer tonight – they were similar in age, and became almost sisters as they shared their feelings and girlish laughter. I was better able to ignore Dervla Kirwan’s good looks tonight, which made it easier to relate to Sonya’s situation.

The age differences came out strongly all round tonight, with the professor looking much the same age as his mother-in-law. Timothy West had his lines pat this time, which helped to make the third act in the drawing room even stronger. Maggie Steed had also developed her part as the mother-in-law, and her early exchanges with Vanya became a lot clearer as a result. Even when edging round the room to find a suitable location to sit and read her pamphlets, she was a strong presence on stage.

Alexander Hanson delivered his lines much more clearly as the doctor, and his character naturally seemed better defined as a result. Roger Allam presumably made some changes in his performance, but I didn’t notice any specifics; I felt he gave such a strong performance first time round that there wasn’t so much left to work on. Anthony O’Donnell and Maggie McCarthy were equally as good as Telegin and Marina respectively. Nothing else had changed in the staging that I could spot, and the scene changes were as long as before.

I still felt there wasn’t anything new in the play for me, but this time I did reckon the characters were connecting a bit with each other. The scene where the doctor explained his maps to Yelena worked particularly well; the air between them was alive with sexual attraction and frustration in about equal measure. There was a strong sense of order being restored at the end with the departure of the interlopers, even if Vanya and Sonya had a lot to grieve over. A good start to this year’s Festival season at Chichester.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Easter – April 2012


By August Strindberg

Directed by Michael Friend

Michael Friend Productions

Venue: Mill Studio, Guildford

Date: Friday 20th April 2012

I was keen to watch this Strindberg play, one we haven’t seen before. The play is set over an Easter weekend, on Good Friday, Saturday and the Easter Sunday. The family set up is quite complicated, but we learned most of the details early on, and although some of the exposition was a bit clunky, it was very necessary. Elis Heyst, a teacher, is living in a house on a small town with his mother, his fiancée Kristina, and one of his students, Benjamin, who has to live with them because his family’s money was embezzled by Elis’s father who has been jailed for fraud. Elis’s family are themselves in debt, up to their eyeballs and beyond, to Lindqvist, a man who arrived in the town years ago, penniless, and who worked his way up to a position of wealth and prominence. He apparently owns their house and contents (the exact nature of this contract wasn’t fully clear), and Elis had to suffer the double whammy of a former pupil being rewarded as a result of stealing Elis’s own work, together with the possibility of a visit from Lindqvist to throw them out of their house.

Things don’t work out quite like that, of course, and with the theme being Easter, forgiveness and reconciliation are likely to be the order of the day. There’s plenty of suffering before the conclusion, mind you, mostly on Elis’s part and mostly brought about by his own silly attitudes, and while this isn’t the most negative Strindberg I’ve seen, it certainly paints a bleak picture of life in Sweden at the time. We also meet his sister Eleanora, who turns up out of the blue after being apparently released from her asylum; she buys a flower in such a way that it seems to be have been stolen – there was no one in the shop at the time, so she just left some money which wasn’t discovered at first – and the threat of being discovered and arrested hangs over her for the second half of the play.

The set was pretty basic, as usual with Michael Friend productions, but nicely done all the same. The front door was far left, with a window at right angles beside it. There was a table to the right of that with a typewriter on it, and further to the right was a dining table with a couple of chairs. The exit to the kitchen was far right. Front and left was another table with two chairs, and there were a few other items giving a homely feel to the place.

The performances were fine. Richard Jackson as Elis had to deliver most of the exposition, so his character took longer to establish than the others, and I didn’t get so much of a feel for his emotional journey. The other characters were more rounded, and I particularly liked the detail in Liz Garland’s Kristina and also Roger Sansom’s Lindqvist – not a lot of stage time for him, but he made an impact even so. It was a good performance – this company always punches above its weight – and we enjoyed catching this less well known piece.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Filumena – April 2012


By Eduardo de Filippo

Directed by MIchael Attenborough

Venue: Alemida Theatre

Date: Wednesday 18th April 2012

It was good to see this one again. It’s been almost thirty years since we saw it at the Connaught, in the days of three-weekly rep (pause for a nostalgic sigh), and I remembered enjoying it then, even if I didn’t remember the story. The set was lovely, the performances all very good, and there were many loud laughs during the afternoon.

The set was wonderfully detailed, with an overall wash of sepia and lots of flowers everywhere creating a strong Mediterranean feel. The location was a small terrace inside a large house, with steps up to the first floor hidden away at the back, and doors to the kitchen and Domenico’s study on either side. Above the study doors was the balcony to Filumena’s room, and the terrace held a round table and several chairs, as well as a tree growing towards the back. The costumes were all in keeping too.

The story was relatively simple: Filumena, who has been Domenico’s mistress as well as running his business for many years, has faked a fatal illness to coerce Domenico to marry her. She’s done this to help her three sons, born when she was a prostitute, one of whom is apparently Domenico’s offspring. The boys are all grown men, but she wants them to know who their mother is and also give them a good name, Domenico’s name, in fact, while she still has a chance. In the process she sees off a much younger rival and overcomes Domenico’s natural anger and resentment at being tricked, to create a happy family situation for all of her children.  It’s all the more impressive because, in her situation, the normal solution to pregnancy would be an abortion; she chose to have her children and arranged for their upbringing against the prevailing ethos, and if she had to rob Domenico in the process, so be it!

The morality of her actions was never really an issue given the poverty of that part of Naples where she grew up. The prostitutes were regarded with respect because they were actually earning money and could feed and clothe themselves. And if she did take Domenico’s money to raise her sons secretly, at least she ran his business so effectively that he could indulge himself on the rest of the profits without noticing the shortfall. Her insistence on not revealing which of her three boys was Domenico’s son was important, and even he came to realise by the end that it meant he would never treat any one of them better than the others (nor try to control their lives either).

Mind you, it didn’t stop him trying to find out, which led to one of the funniest sections of the whole play (and there were several to choose from). Before their second wedding, the real one, Domenico spent some time alone with the boys, and tried to find some clues in the way they behaved or in their talents, to show which one was his son. At first he thought the womanising tailor could be the man; they shared a love of the fair sex. But then the others confessed to the same feelings, even if the married son was too scared of his wife to act on his inclinations. Singing was the next test, but no luck there either – who knew there could be three tone-deaf Neapolitans! This was hilarious stuff.

Samantha Spiro was excellent as Filumena, and Sheila Reid gave a nicely detailed performance as her maid, Rosalia. Clive Wood and Geoffrey Freshwater made a good double act as Domenico and his sidekick Alfredo, and the rest of the cast supported them really well with lovely performances. As we left the theatre, one man was even booking to see it again, and I can understand why.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Barefoot In The Park – April 2012


By Neil Simon

Directed by Maureen Lipman and Peter Cregeen

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud

Date: Friday 6th April 2012

This was good fun. The comedy was a bit dated, but the cast delivered their lines really well – Maureen Lipman as Mrs Banks was superb – so there were plenty of laughs all the way through. It was nice to see Dominic Tighe playing a man for once, while Faye Castelow seems to have cornered the market on ditzy young airheads with plenty of heart. Oliver Cotton completed the lead quartet with his flamboyant older man, and the support cast were all fine.

The set was suitably small, with a massive area of window dominating the top half and a tiny kitchen crammed into the apartment’s upper level. The furnishings were all nicely period, as were the costumes. The only down side for me was that I don’t care for those let-it-all-hang-out types who seem to be free spirits but who actually act very selfishly, as with Corrie’s character. Even so, I still enjoyed the evening, along with the rest of the audience.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Anne Boleyn – April 2012


By Howard Brenton

Directed by Rachel Tackley

Company: English Touring Theatre (based on the Shakespeare’s Globe production directed by John Dove)

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Thursday 5th April 2012

There was a lot of overlap between this play and Written On The Heart, which we saw this winter in Stratford. Both concerned the writing of the King James Version of the Bible, but came at it from different angles. Written On The Heart looked in some detail at the wider historical context of the changes in religion at that time, plus the theological and political wrangling that went on, while Anne Boleyn focused on the lady herself, and the way in which her likely Protestantism and possible involvement with William Tyndale may have contributed to Henry’s change of heart and the secession from Rome.  This was blended with a framing context of James’s succession to the English throne, and his use of the KJV as a way of bringing together the warring factions within the new Christianity. All of this with a lot of humour, plenty of lively action and tremendous performances.

The play started with some of the cast coming out and chatting with the audience, a much harder thing to do in a proscenium arch setting. In fact the whole performance suffered from being taken out of the Globe and thrust into a non-thrust environment. Apart from the stuffiness of the atmosphere in the Theatre Royal, the energy levels just weren’t up to the liveliness of the Globe, as far as the audience were concerned that is. The actors gave us plenty of oomph, and I suspect a 3D acting space would have made the performance even more enjoyable. Still, I’m glad they’re touring some of their work, as I think it deserves a wider audience.

Anne’s ghost then chatted to us for a bit, and her direct gaze and frank speech made her an attractive heroine for a modern audience. She introduced us to James, Sixth and First, before she left, and immediately we learned of his obsession with Elizabeth’s frocks. James Garnon played him as a very naughty schoolboy who just happens to be king, although his upbringing had made him shrewd as well as rude. He also had a stammer and a tendency to fart, and all in all it was an excellent performance.

The play then alternated between Anne’s story and James’s, with the bulk of the story being about Anne. We saw the beginning of King Henry’s seduction of Anne (or was it the other way round?), through the political attempts to have Henry’s marriage to Katherine annulled, to the final plot against Anne by Cromwell which led to her trial and execution. She also met William Tyndale a couple of times along the way, a speculative insertion by the author but not without foundation. James’s story started with his arrival in London, and combined his sexual romps with George Villiers with his determination to get agreement between the warring religious factions in England – the recently established Church of England, the puritans and the Catholics. Not an easy feat, given the intense hostility that existed between the groups, and so the idea of a new translation of the bible came along, a way of bringing the divided flock together. The play ended with a very drunk James seeing Anne’s ghost; he passed out from the drink leaving her to say her final lines to us, the demons of the future. It was a surprisingly upbeat ending to a very interesting and entertaining play.

All the performances were excellent; I’ve already mentioned James Garnon, and I will also mention Jo Herbert, who played Anne, and gave her all the liveliness, intelligence and passion the part required. But the ensemble worked brilliantly together, and only the deadening effect of the proscenium arch held my enjoyment back to the 7/10 level. I’d certainly see this again, especially if performed in a more suitable space.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Murder Mistaken – April 2012


By Janet Green

Directed by Bruce James

Company: Bruce James Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 4th April 2012

An old one, this, which we’d seen many years before. Steve remembered it, I didn’t, but there weren’t many twists to unravel in this psychological ‘thriller’. A man kills his much older wife for her money, only to find that he’s not as well off as he thought he would be. Another rich woman comes along – will she meet the same fate? Meanwhile another tempting female with money turns up, and we’re wondering who will do what to whom? With moments to spare, will the murderer be revealed in time, or will he succeed in getting the money he craves through another murder? Decent performances all round in this fairly average will-he-get-away-with-it (the last we’ll be seeing from this company, as it turns out).

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Cherry Orchard – April 2012


By Anton Chekov, translated by Stephen Mulrine

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Tuesday 3rd April 2012

This was an enjoyable production, if not up to the level of SATTF’s Shakespeare offerings. The stage was decorated with more furniture than usual – rugs, a small bookcase, tables, chairs, sofas, etc. – and the setting was emphasised with strong lighting changes between acts. The story was told at a fairly brisk pace, and there was a good amount of humour throughout the performance as well as an understanding of the various characters’ situations. I’m finding Chekov’s work less interesting at the moment though; don’t know if it’s just a dry spell or whether I’ve got as much as I can from the plays. Either way I reckon this was a very good production, though not the best I’ve seen.

There was still the sense of characters talking at each other without making a connection at times, and I was aware of the oddness of Charlotta’s speech at the start of the second act. Chekov seems to be presenting us with a melange of characters from rural Russia, and they each get their turn to be centre stage regardless of any plot that might be going on. It’s an OK way to do things, but sometimes I feel it disrupts the rhythm of the piece.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett played Varya, the adopted daughter, and brought out her concerns about money very strongly along with her fear of being called a miser. I wasn’t so clear about her love for Lopakhin this time, but it was still a shame that he couldn’t bring himself to propose to her. Simon Armstrong’s Lopakhin was an energetic, bustling man who would always need to be doing something; I’m not sure this Varya would have suited him so well as a wife. Julia Hills was a fine Ranevskaya, with no sense whatsoever but a great deal of charm, and Christopher Bianchi’s Gaev was a decent, kind man who just talked far too much.

The rest of the cast did good work as well. I liked the truculence of Firs, played by Paul Nicholson, and Piers Wehner gave us a Yasha you just wanted to slap (a good thing in a Yasha). I enjoyed this much better than their Uncle Vanya in 2009 – perhaps the different venue didn’t work so well for me – so I wouldn’t rule out seeing any SATTF non-Shakespeare productions in the future.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me