Bugle Boy – June 2012


Original concept and book by Den Stevenson

Directed by Bruce James

Bruce James Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Thursday 28th June 2012

One thing we were sure of before we left for the theatre tonight – the music was going to be good! And it was, too, with a fifteen-piece band on stage to give us a rich, full sound throughout the evening. Three of the band left their seats at times to play other characters and contribute vocals, while Ian Knauer and Lisa Lynch, who played Glenn Miller and his wife Helen, also sang in character. With so many on stage, there wasn’t much of set, just a large screen above and behind the band, and a few furnishings as required for some of the scenes. The actors played the train journeys on tour by carrying suitcases and  jiggling a lot, and the whole story was framed by an interview with Helen telling the story of Glenn’s life on a radio program. The costumes were all good, and with the music really getting us ‘In The Mood’, we had a great time.

Ian Knauer was fine as Glenn Miller, having just the right degree of stiffness as he stood conducting the band. Lisa Lynch’s voice was a bit harsh for me, too brassy in the wrong way, but Maddie Cole was a great singer – she did the rest of the woman’s parts – and she was the only one we could hear clearly above the band. Of course they were all miked up, but then that’s a necessity these days, and much less strain on the vocal cords. I sniffled a good deal, especially when they announced the loss of the plane that he’d been on, and also during the final montage of pictures, and quite a few other times as well; just a big softie, me. They certainly got a good response from the audience; given the average age in Worthing, that’s not a surprise, but I hope they get an equally warm welcome wherever they play – they deserve it.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Henry V – June 2012


By Willliam Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 27th June 2012

The stage was much the same as for the Hamlet earlier this month; the scaffolding at the back, the pointy thrust at the front, and two groups of three chairs stacked behind each pillar. The musicians treated us to a lovely selection of (I assume) Elizabethan music to warm us up, and then Brid Brennan as the Chorus strode forward to get the play started. I gather it’s not the first time a woman has played the Chorus, but certainly the first time at the Globe (Zoe Wanamaker at the opening ceremony aside), and it was amazing to hear this speech as it would have been done originally, addressed directly to an audience which the actor could see, and which could respond if it wanted to. I found the imagery more relevant, with the whole idea of the actor directing the crowd’s imaginations coming strongly to the fore. And the references to “this wooden ‘o’”, coupled with Brid Brennan’s circular arm movements, were accurate at long last! Her delivery was also clear and strong, which got us off to a good start. (I also liked the program’s description of this opening speech in the synopsis: “The Chorus apologises for this attempt to present a great historical subject in the theatre.”) After her speech, she stayed on stage as a servant in the next scene which was a nice touch, having the Chorus as part of the action.

The next scene, the discussion between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely on tax evasion (plus ça change…) was the crappiest performance I’ve ever seen. I make no apologies for this comment. A padded chair had been brought on stage, placed between and behind the two pillars, and when the seat was raised, it turned out to be a luxury toilet. Each churchman took his turn, with the servant providing the hand washing facilities. This was funny, of course, and entertaining, but it’s one of those choices that plays against the text, with very little of the dialogue coming across clearly; not much help to the audience given the complex nature of the arguments for and against war with France. Still, it’ll get the crowd on your side, which is not a bad thing, and at least we knew the gist of the discussion, so no problem for us.

With the plush Portaloo removed, the new king took to the stage, looking a little nervous, I thought. He sat near the front during the Archbishop’s lecture, which seemed even longer than I remember. A plane flew over during this speech; the king looked up, then leaned nearer to the Archbishop to hear him better, which was funny. He also showed a clear reaction when Canterbury (finally!) finished explaining why Salic law did not bar his claim to France. As an aside, we had fewer planes and helicopters this time compared to Hamlet, thank goodness, though they were still a bit of a nuisance. The tennis balls were confined to the box in this production, and Henry made it clear to the French ambassador that the gift would backfire.

I’m not sure when Chorus told us about the three traitors, but she was on stage as a pedlar for the first scene with the low lifes, and even used her knife to good effect when Nym (or Pistol) tried to threaten her. While Bardolph was consoling Nym, we could hear the sounds of sexual activity coming from the upper level; this made sense of Nym’s unhappiness with Pistol, which was handy when the words weren’t too clear. When Pistol and Mistress Quickly came downstairs, the fight began in earnest, but peace was eventually made so they could go and fight the French. Sir John’s illness was included in this version.

Chorus introduced the Southampton scene, while the three traitors strolled onto the stage and sat on three chairs placed diagonally across the stage. The action was much as usual, although when the three were declaring themselves delighted that their treachery had been discovered, Scroop was believable, Cambridge just a tad over the top, but Grey was way over the top; his gushing flattery was received with humour by the audience.

The departure of Pistol and the crew to Southampton was pretty standard, apart from the trunk on a trolley. This was left behind when the characters walked off, and as the French court came on, Pistol returned to take the trunk away, stopping the French throne from coming on. The French court’s discussion was pretty clear, Chorus did another travelogue, and then we were into the battles.

Henry’s “once more unto the breach” was fine, addressing the audience a lot, followed by the reluctant combatants Pistol, Nym and Bardolph being rousted along by Fluellen. For the Scots captain, Chris Starkie used a completely unintelligible Scottish-sounding growl which raised quite a laugh. Harfleur was taken, and then Katherine had her English lesson with Alice. I forget when the interval came – it’s usually around now – and then the French had their little pep talk, with the audience again standing in for all those French nobles the cast couldn’t manage to show on stage.

The scenes flowed through nicely to the end. Henry was saddened by Bardolph’s death momentarily, but stuck to his guns. The French were far too smug before the battle, even in the relatively few lines they were left with. Harry walked about his camp and encountered the usual suspects, finishing with his soliloquy about ceremony and part of his prayer. The St Crispin speech was fine, though I wasn’t necessarily ready to charge onto the stage to help out, and then the battle began. Pistol’s prisoner was treated badly as usual, and then the order was given to kill the prisoners before the French killed the boys. I think Fluellen carried the dead boy on stage and put him near the front, where the king saw him when he came on.

After the battle, Fluellen was sent after Williams, they fought, the king restored order and then the list of the dead was presented and read out. I always find that bit moving, and so it was today. Fluellen ‘persuaded’ Pistol to eat his greens, after which Pistol did a mini-Richard III and declared his intention to become even more of a villain than he already was. Queen Isabel was actually at the final court scene for once, and after Burgundy’s Springwatch report, Henry’s wooing of Katherine was suitably awkward. They finished with Henry’s last line, the Chorus’s references to Henry VI part 1 being unnecessary when this play is done on its own. Besides, the dance at the end fitted in well with a wedding celebration, and left us with a happy feeling.

While there was nothing wrong with this production (apart from the staging of the first scene), there was a lack of energy, a missing spark. Overall the production leant towards the patriotic side, and while that’s an acceptable decision, I didn’t feel the text had been examined rigorously enough to give us greater depth. Of course I may have missed some of that from our side view, and on the plus side there was plenty of audience involvement, but that’s natural at the Globe and I would have preferred a meatier production of this play. Having said that, Jamie Parker was fine as Henry and the rest of the performances supported him well, with Chorus being particularly good. I enjoyed myself well enough, and the post-show chat with Brid Brennan and David Hargreaves was entertaining and interesting.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Sunshine Boys – June 2012


By Neil Simon

Directed by Thea Sharrock

Venue: Savoy Theatre

Date: Saturday 23rd June 2012

This was great fun. Neil Simon is a master craftsman, and this play is one of his best, judging by this production. The casting worked really well, and it looked like they were having nearly as much fun as we were. The audience were on their feet at the end – we joined in too – so the enjoyment was universal.

The play is set in the 1970s; Adam Levy not only gave a very good performance as Ben Silverman, the nephew and agent of Willie Clark, he also modelled a selection of 1970s suits for the ambitious young businessman, and looked very good in them as well. The play was mainly set in Willie’s hotel suite; he was a long-term resident, and had been demoted from a five room suite to three, but it still looked pretty spacious to me. To the right was the kitchen ‘alcove’, screened off with a curtain. To the left were the big windows, with exits for the bedroom and bathroom, and centre back was the main door, with the usual array of security locks (this is New York after all). The furniture was shabby, and reflected the life of an old man who didn’t look after himself too well. The only other set was the studio where the duo were attempting to record their famous doctor/taxman sketch. Easily contained within the walls of the suite, there were glittery curtains all round, and a doctor’s consulting room in the middle, with a door on the left, table and chairs in the middle, a flipchart to the right, a skeleton to the left, and not much else.

The story concerns two old comedians who used to have a top comedy act, Clark (Danny DeVito) and Lewis (Richard Griffiths). After Lewis’s abrupt retirement eleven or twelve years ago, the pair haven’t spoken to each other, but now a TV company wants to record their famous sketch as part of a documentary charting the history of comedy performance. As Willie’s agent, Ben was keen to get them back together again, and despite Willie’s complaints and hostility, he does finally agree to a rehearsal. The relationship between the two men then became the central theme of the play, and along with the laughs I could see glimpses of the heartache as well. It was clear that Willie had been grieving for the loss of his career all those years ago, when he didn’t feel like retiring, while Al Lewis had simply had enough.

The humour was rich and varied; most of it was in the dialogue, which these two stars delivered with impeccable timing. There was also a lot of visual stuff too, like the TV on a trolley which was moved too far so the plug came out of the socket. When Willie phoned the concierge to complain, he realised what he’d done but didn’t admit it, claiming he would fix it himself. Then there was the bit during the rehearsal scene where they were putting the furniture into place to represent the set. They kept changing each other’s work, until finally Willie leaves Al to do it himself. The resolution to this argument was very funny, involving the slight movement of a chair.

I also enjoyed the performance of Johnnie Fiori as the nurse in the final scene, when Willie was recuperating from his heart attack. She was feisty and funny, and although I couldn’t hear all of her lines, I got the gist. The whole production worked really well, and I’m glad we managed to squeeze this one in.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Kiss Me Kate – June 2012

Experience: 8/10

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Directed by Trevor Nunn

CFT and Old Vic co-production

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 22nd June 2012

If there’s one thing that Chichester are doing really well at the moment, it’s musicals. This is another gem, and given that this was only the 4th performance and it’s likely to improve, get your tickets now because they’ll soon be sold out.

We didn’t have the best angle to watch from tonight. Our seats were right of centre, normally an excellent position, but the set was slanted across the stage to the left, so we felt we were sitting much further round to the side. God knows what the people actually sitting round that way saw! The set was fabulous all the same. It combined the backstage area, the stage itself and a small area outside the stage door, all in the one set. The proscenium arch was placed across the stage facing diagonally left. For the scenes on stage there was a backdrop with a small exit on the right hand side, while cloth drapes, boxes and chairs completed the onstage set. At right angles to the proscenium arch were a couple of boxes, fortunately not blocking anyone’s view on that side. For backstage scenes, the backdrop was raised and we could see the open area with brickwork and doors, or the dressing rooms would be turned round so we could see those scenes. On the far right were the stage door and a small strip of stage down to the stairs which served as the outside world. Lighting changes emphasised one area or the other, and with dancing and one or two songs covering the scene changes, they kept some momentum going. Even so, the changes were a bit clunky, but they’ll improve for practice.

To set up a location in the musical-within-a-musical, they brought on, amongst other things, a box which they placed in the middle of the stage. A spotlight picked it out – this didn’t always happen tonight, but I assume it was intended – a white-gloved hand would open the box with a flourish, and then take out a strand of cloth to start the process. Others would come in to help attach the corners of the cloth set, and then it would be lifted up to give a wall and door (Petruchio’s place), an overhanging cloth (Padua) and a lovely cloth tree, with the patterns of leaves printed on the cloth as well as scalloped strips of cloth arranged all round it. They will find it easier in time, but tonight these sections were a bit too messy and held the energy back a little.

The costumes were lovely, and in period for the 1948 sections. The Elizabethan look was cunningly woven into the m-w-a-m costumes, though they wouldn’t pass muster at the Globe. The band was above and behind, as usual, and the set completely obscured them this time, but they were a strong presence, naturally. The dancing was fine – the opening number of the second half was about fifteen minutes long! – but the singing and dialogue need to be clearer; I lost a lot of Cole Porter’s witty lyrics, but again this will come on in time.

There isn’t an overture for this show, at least not in the usual style. The chorus sings the opening number, Another Op’nin’, Another Show, adding snippets of later songs, and taking practice runs at the choreography. It was a lively start, and the following scene, with Fred Graham giving some pre-opening notes and taking them through their bows, was good fun. The pre-show scenes continued to fill in the relationships. Lois and Bill (Bianca and Lucentio) are an item, but he gambles (and she’s susceptible to expensive presents, as we discovered later – not that it came as a surprise). Fred and Lilli are always sniping at each other, but she loves him deeply, despite having an ongoing relationship with a mystery man. When she was brought some flowers which were clearly a gift from Fred, as they were the same as the flowers she had in her wedding bouquet, she softened towards him; unfortunately he had intended the flowers for Lois, and although he tried to get back the note he had written for them, Lilli slipped it down her bodice as a good luck token, planning to read it later.

The first m-w-a-m scene, We Opened In Venice, involved the cast moving a load of boxes around the stage on a trolley (I assume). It was messy and lacked sparkle, but didn’t become too boring. Then they did the first set-in-a-box process, and it worked OK. Allowing for massive changes to the original, we then saw some of the opening scenes, with Baptista, Gremio, Hortensio, Lucentio, Bianca and Kate going through a sizeable chunk of Act 1 scene 1 (no Grumio or Tranio in this version), and with Lucentio making himself known to Baptista as a suitor for Bianca.

Bianca then made her feelings clear about her various suitors, and seemed to be happy to marry anyone, anyone at all, in Tom, Dick Or Harry, although there was a definite emphasis on ‘Dick’. At one point a suitor, Gremio I think, tore some cloth off Bianca’s skirt, leaving her with a leg-revealing gap. It looked odd, though presumably it would be easier to dance in, and it’s not unknown for musicals to show off the eye candy to best advantage. Fortunately that extended to the tight tights worn by the fit young men who leapt about the stage, definitely a treat for us ladies.

Petruchio arrived as the suitors were arguing about Lucentio, and broke up their quarrel. He was Lucentio’s friend this time, which meant poor Hortensio had very little to do. He sang I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua well enough, but the staging hasn’t stuck in my mind. I forget the exact order of events now, but Petruchio was introduced to Baptista, they left to have a drink, and at some point Kate and Bianca did a brief version of their argument, with Baptista breaking it up very quickly – this may have happened earlier.

With Kate left alone on stage, she used the table, chairs and drinking cups left behind as ammunition for I Hate Men. As Baptista and Petruchio came back on stage for the preamble to the wooing scene, Lilli went off stage, happily opening the note she had kept down her dress. This was where things started to go so very wrong. Having promised never to call Fred a bastard again, Lilli broke that promise a few moments later; we heard her from backstage. Baptista and Petruchio both looked alarmed, and then Kate came back out for the wooing scene, loaded for bear. She didn’t hold back on the pretend slaps, and with the scene being played almost in full, there were plenty of opportunities for her to inflict damage on the ‘bastard’. Finally he’d had enough, and after threatening her with a spanking, he actually carried it out, right there on the stage. The next song, Kiss Me, Kate, had her refusing to do any such thing, and so to the interval.

The second half started with Too Darned Hot, a number that didn’t advance the story but certainly got the energy up again after the break. Paul, Fred’s dresser, was the lead singer and dancer, and he did a splendid job, while the dancing was not only good, it went on for a long while. Hattie, Lilli’s dresser, also added some humour. She was sitting by the front of the stage, sewing something, and when Paul tried to get close to her, she made  several pointed comments, such as “you see this needle”, which did the trick  and kept him away. She also joined in the dance, briefly; singing was her forte.

With Lilli/Kate nursing a sore behind, the next scene was at Petruchio’s house. He nicked the cushion that someone brought on for her, took away what little food she managed to get her hands on – Lilli had been asking for a sandwich since before the show – and had a cloth door slammed in his face when Kate stormed off into their bedroom. His song, Where Is The Life That Late I Led?, was good fun, although I didn’t catch all the lines, and he used the full width of the stage to get us all involved.

Lilli’s mystery man, General Harrison Howell, arrived to take Lilli away – I’ll get to that part later – and after expressing his chauvinistic attitudes to Fred, he was recognised by Lois. She had featured strongly in the General’s R&R during the war, although she didn’t remember much of the ‘rest’ part. With Bill overhearing some of her conversation with General she had to explain herself to him, hence the number Always True To You In My Fashion, which they did very well.

Lilli’s attempt to leave the theatre had been scotched earlier, and since Fred had persuaded the General that Lilli’s request was just a whim, Howell wasn’t too supportive of her as they talked in her dressing room. He wouldn’t call the FBI, he wouldn’t let her eat after 21:00 hours, and fancy French hats would clearly be a thing of the past for the wife of the next Vice president of the United States of America! (No chance of that – he’d picked Dewey.) Despite this, they sang a sickeningly smoochy version of From This Moment On, a song inserted in the 1999 Broadway revival.

While Lilli dressed to leave, the rest of the cast entertained us with Lucentio’s love poem to his adored, Bianca. It has gloriously rubbish lyrics, but the tap dancing and singing were good, and as tap is my favourite I enjoyed this number the most. Lilli left via the stage door, and with Howell being so precise and demanding I was aware that this was a completely unsuitable match for her. Fred went back in for the end of the show, and then came the bit we’d all been waiting for.

To go back a little: Bill’s gambling was not successful, and he’d signed an IOU for $10,000 using Fred’s’ name. The gentleman holding the IOU, Mr Hogan, sent round two of his employees, known to us as First Man and Second Man, to collect on the debt. At first Fred denied all knowledge of the debt, claiming it wasn’t even his signature – they all say that – but when Lilli was planning to leave, he saw an opportunity. While acknowledging the IOU, he explained that he couldn’t pay it back till the end of the week, and with Lilli leaving, the show would fold immediately. The two gentlemen, well read in matters Shakespearean, were unhappy about Lilli’s career choice, and made their displeasure known by means of waving their guns around. Until her General arrived, there was nothing Lilli could do but soldier on, with two preposterously dressed minders watching her every move. Their spats didn’t really go with the Elizabethan style of their tabards, and First Man’s sunglasses simply had to be removed.

During the second half, these two men were checking in with Mr Hogan when they learned of a change of management. Mr Hogan’s debts of honour died with the man, so Fred was in the clear and the two men could leave, after changing out of their costumes of course. As they made their way out of the theatre, they found themselves in front of the curtain, facing the audience. Unsure of what to do, they whispered for a bit then launched into the impromptu (but wasn’t it lucky the band had the music ready) Brush Up Your Shakespeare. It went pretty well, though again it should improve with some more performances.

That done, and despite Fred telling someone to get Lilli’s understudy ready to play Kate, there was an empty seat for the final scene. The tree had been set up well enough – they are fiddly, those cloth sets – and the cast had an air of dejection, while Fred was deeply unhappy. With no Kate to supply her lines, and no widow for Hortensio (poor man), Bianca left the stage on her own and the men fell to arguing about the relative merits of the two wives. Lucentio sent for Bianca by one of the women who were in attendance; she didn’t turn up, natch. After Petruchio sent for Kate, there was a long pause, after which Bianca crept back on at the side of the stage and shook her head. Fred sat on a chair, head in hands, and the rest of the cast didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. Then Kate came on from the back, in full costume, and walked to the front of the stage, with the rest of the cast reacting to her arrival. When she spoke her line “What is your will, sir, that you send for me?”, Petruchio leapt to his feet (pause while I blow my nose, sniffle, sniffle) and was overjoyed to see her. It felt absolutely right that she’d come back, and her song I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple was more a declaration of love for him than an expression of the sentiments in the lyrics. They finished with a rousing version of Kiss Me, Kate, and this time they did kiss, long and hard.

This was great fun, and despite the rough patches it looks set to be a winner. The cast are all excellent. Hannah Waddingham (Lilli/Kate) has an amazingly powerful voice, even allowing for the mike. She has the looks and the figure to be a 1950s star, and can also do the comedy and the anger. Alex Bourne matched her very well as Fred/Petruchio, with enough charm to offset both of his characters’ arrogance (just) and a strong voice. Holly Dale Spencer’s Lois/Bianca combo was very good, although it took me a while to get used to her facial expressions when she was dancing. She showed Lois’s chorus line background by always standing with one leg in front of the other, foot resting on the toes, and she sang and danced really well. Adam Garcia was another good match as Bill/Lucentio, although I felt his part wasn’t as clearly defined as the other three. Still, he sings and dances well, and isn’t hard to look at. David Burt and Clive Rowe made a good start as the two gangsters, and there’s more to come there too, while Wendy Mae Brown (Hattie) and Jason Pennycooke (Paul) gave excellent cameos in their small but entertaining parts, probably the best defined characters at this time.

Of the rest I particularly liked Paul Grunert who played Baptista; his looks of concern when things started to go wrong added to the fun, along with his attempts to get things back on track by repeating his lines. [From the post-show on 9thAug he has trouble remembering the exact lines anyway…]  The whole ensemble looked good, though, and with practice this show should come on tremendously. We’ve already booked.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Physicists – June 2012


By Friedrich Dürrenmatt, in a new version by Jack Thorne

Directed by Josie Rourke

Venue: Donmar Theatre

Date: Thursday 21st June 2012

I’m wary of European writing; it tends to the obscure and dull, and while this was undoubtedly a very funny play, it did have its low points for me, superb performances notwithstanding. Three physicists are housed in an asylum; two of them are convinced they’re Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, while the third actually is Johann Wilhelm Möbius who’s gone mad simply through being a physicist. With two of their nurses dead, and the public prosecutor getting restless, what will happen to the three men? And what has all this got to do with the debate about the responsibility of scientists in the modern world?

The set was almost completely white. The back wall was a mass of doors; the three main doors were helpfully numbered 1, 2 and 3, while the rest of the space was filled with similar doors, some on their sides to fit in the gaps. There were two stubs of brick wall on either side, with megaphone speakers high up – these were never used. Above it all were serried ranks of institutional lights, four rows of five. A table and chair were placed towards the back of the stage and in front of the middle door, while a 60s style armchair with a high curving back, and a matching footstool were on our left. Front right was another round table with a carved wooden chair, all in white. There was a muted green wastepaper basket by the table, a small light on it, and a table and light over by the armchair. The only splashes of colour were the bowl of red apples on this round table – very vivid in this setting – and a huge portrait leaning against the right hand wall. It showed an older man with wire rimmed glasses and a white moustache. The painting also had a hidden drinks cupboard.

The play began in the dark. When the lights went up, a body was lying on the stage in front of us, the body of an attractive blond in a nurse’s uniform. She was clearly dead, and the others present revealed themselves to be a police inspector, his assistants – one medical, one photographical – and a very stern senior nurse for whom all sorts of pleasure were definitely forbidden! They went through the procedures for dealing with a dead body, finally removing the corpse altogether, leaving only a red taped line to show where she had been, and there was a lot of humour all through this section. The inspector then met Newton, who also kept us entertained for a while with his intelligent and barbed comments. The ‘perpetrator’ of the murder, Albert Einstein, was unavailable at this point, though the strains of his violin playing were just discernible from behind the wall; this was his way of calming down. Newton had also murdered his nurse some three months earlier, and his residency in an insane asylum had obviously provided the perfect antidote to arrest and a different form of imprisonment.

The inspector’s investigation petered out after a chat with the institution’s founder and chief psychiatrist Dr von Zahnd, played by Sophie Thompson, recently a marvellous Mrs Hardcastle in She Stoops To Conquer at the National. Her portrayal of Dr von Zahnd involved a hump that would not have disgraced the most outrageous Richard III, and her shambling gait, pale face and clinical manner made me think of a cross between Ygor and Baron Frankenstein. She must win awards for these performances, surely! Her explanations for the murders and assurances that it wouldn’t happen again – the only other physicist left in this part of the institution, Möbius, was entirely harmless – appeared to satisfy the inspector, and the geniuses were left alone to their madness.

The first half culminated in the murder of another nurse, this time Möbius’s, following a visit from his ex-wife and their sons. She had remarried, and was heading off to some distant islands in the Pacific with her new husband, who was a missionary. She wanted to say goodbye before she left for good, and the stress of this news seemed to affect Möbius badly. He threw a fit of madness, throwing off his clothes, pouring body lotion all over himself, and generally behaving badly. His ex was glad to leave, and with Dr von Zahnd’s reassurance that Möbius would still be cared for at this expensive facility, she left with a clear conscience.

Möbius’s nurse was well aware that he’d been faking his madness, and now she wanted to marry him and help him achieve the greatness she knew he deserved. This prospect was too horrific for him and so he strangled her with her own belt, leaving her body in almost exactly the same position as the first body we saw, as outlined by one of the policemen in red tape. The second half therefore started in a similar way to the first, with a dead body on the floor (played by the same actress) and the police beginning their investigation. At least the inspector now knew where the brandy was concealed.

After this second body was cleared away, the play moved into a different phase, with male security guards, sorry, nurses, arriving to replace the women – mind you, there was only one female nurse left alive. These men set up the dinner table for the three inmates and left them to it, allowing us to hear their private conversation. It turned out that Einstein and Newton were, indeed, faking it, each having been sent to the asylum by their government to observe Möbius and learn what they could about his scientific discoveries. Newton, himself a respected physicist, was from a totalitarian country, while Einstein, another physicist in disguise, was from a more democratic country, but one where scientists had very little real power. The rest of the play was largely a debate about the responsibility of scientists for the information they discovered, and frankly this bit was rather dull. There was a final twist, not entirely unexpected, which made the whole debate irrelevant, and that was that.

I enjoyed much of this play, and the performances were terrific, but the style and theme weren’t to my taste. I find this kind of discussion too ethereal, lacking pragmatism, as if going over and over these issues can somehow resolve them. The debate itself is valid and can be interesting, but I prefer to be connected to it through caring about the characters, which didn’t happen here. Still a good production, though, and an interesting choice from the new artistic director.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Antigone – June 2012


By Sophocles, translated by Don Taylor

Directed by Polly Findlay

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Tuesday 19th June 2012

The modern setting was obvious as soon as we looked at the stage. Three office cubicles, glass-fronted, were on the back of the revolve, with several desks and chairs scattered about the rest of the stage covered with files, anglepoise lamps, and assorted office equipment from typewriters and reel-to-reel tape machines through to laptops and TVs. Above all this were hung round light fittings, some of which were broken, revealing the bulb (low energy, of course). One desk was front and centre, with a young man watching what turned out to be a TV screen, and underneath it all was that low frequency droning sound which is used, far too often, to create a sense of threat. It also creates a sense of nausea and a headache in those who are susceptible to such things, including me, so not the best of starts.

The droning stopped a little before the action started, thank goodness, and then, with a huge crash which startled a number of us, the play began. The young man snatched up the phone, spoke to someone, and then another chap rushed in, followed by more men, with Creon emerging from the centre cubicle, I think. They moved the desk and gathered round it, and like the American officials watching some US military action via satellite, these men watched as their side won the final battle of the civil war. Much celebration all round.

While they partied, the set swung round to show the back of the cubicles, which consisted of a curved, textured wall with two passageways between the cubicles. Antigone emerged from one of these passages, clearly upset at the carnage she’d just witnessed – I presume she’d been spying on events, although I didn’t see her on stage for the opening scene. Her first lines, addressed to Ismene, were unintelligible, partly because she was facing away from us, partly because the music was a bit too loud, and partly because I wasn’t clear what accent she was using, so it took a while to tune in. (RP has its advantages.) Antigone and Creon were definitely from the north of England, though everyone else seemed to be fairly Home Counties, as far as I can remember.

Apart from this early dialogue, the lines were pretty clear, and I enjoyed the freshness of this translation. It did lose some aspects of the poetry, but the meaning was very clear throughout, and there were some choice modernisations, such as Creon’s use of the word ‘administration’ when referring to his own government of Athens. The story was told precisely, with no significant cuts or rearrangement, and although I do find the final stages less interesting, when there’s just the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth to get through, this production told a powerful story well. I did find the gaps between scenes a little too long, but there were some good bits of business, such as Antigone’s arrest procedure – searched, photographed and hands secured with a plastic tie. The soldier reporting the ‘burial’ of Polynices’s body was good fun – a nice performance from Luke Norris – while Jamie Ballard was excellent as Tiresias, getting a round of applause as he left. His makeup seemed a bit excessive to me – did he really need to have some kind of skin complaint plastered over his left eye? – but the performance got past all that.

Christopher Ecclestone was also very good as Creon. He had the politician’s arrogance, and while I’ve often felt the injustice of Antigone and Haemon dying when it’s Creon who’s offended the gods, this time I was aware that the play is more about Creon, his choices and his suffering, as a moral lesson to Athenian men not to displease the gods. Luke Newberry as Haemon was also good, and it was nice to see Paul Bentall as a military man trying to advise Creon to do the right thing.

The chorus and other characters were fine, so it was only the emphasis on detailed realism that held my enjoyment back today. If anything, the set was too elaborate, with too much going on for the tension to build properly. For example, I noticed the tape recorder during one interrogation scene, because a bit of tape was sticking up and was going round and round; this didn’t add to the experience for me, and in general I find that a lot of modern productions make this mistake, confusing ‘reality’ with ‘truth’. So although it’s a good production, it wasn’t my favourite by a long way.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Producers – June 2012


By Mel Brooks, book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan

Directed by Nikolai Foster

GSA Graduate Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 18th June 2012

Steve and I had only seen the film of The Producers up to this point, so I was keen to see what the GSA would do this year following the excellent Fiddler last time. I wasn’t disappointed. It took me a little while to warm up to Max, but once Leo came along and their plot got started, I was completely hooked. The writing is superb, with lots of humour and some marvellous songs, including a Fiddler pastiche, a negro spiritual and many others.

I won’t go into the story; it’s different from the film, but still near enough for jazz, as my Dad used to say. The cast did another excellent job, changing from old dears to Nazi pigeons (had to be seen to be believed), office workhorses to dancing Nazis. One of the men was really disappointed to find he wasn’t allowed to be a showgirl, and in truth he did look stunning in his spangly red costume, but it was not to be.

There was a New York cityscape at the back, with a girder balcony in front of it. Underneath were central double doors (most of the time) which were mainly the entrance to Max’s office, but moonlighted occasionally for other locations. To emphasise the theatrical nature of the musical, the rest of the sets were created from big theatre hampers that they wheeled around. These hampers stored props, became desks, opened up to reveal posters, etc. – very versatile. I loved the looser feel these gave to the show, and I’m sure they made the scene changes much easier.

For the scenes with Roger de Bris, the director, a gold curtain swept across the stage, with only some stairs peeking through, while the whole stage was transformed again for the Springtime For Hitler performance, looking altogether more glamorous. We didn’t get to see the reactions of Max and Leo during the show, but the post-show trauma song, Where Did We Go Right?, was hilarious.

The individual performances were all good. Craig Golding was very strong as Roger de Bris, taking over the lead role of Hitler at the drop of a hat. Rob Eyles, who played his assistant Carmen, really caught our eye; his spot-on camp bitch performance almost stole the show at times. Brittany Field did well with the tall gorgeous blond Swedish character, but let’s face it, these bimbo roles are not the best parts that Mel Brooks has ever written.

Max Bialystock was played by Hans Rye, and he did remarkably well in such a tough role. Not only was he competing with the memory of Zero Mostel, he was also playing much older than he is, and given that musical performers have to take good care of their bodies, he was never going to look like a totally dissipated has-been just by turning up. He had to act the part instead, and after a few scenes I was happy to go along with his performance. He had me hooked long before his big number, Betrayed, which was excellent.

Rob Houchen may have had it slightly easier as Leopold Bloom, since that character can be younger than Max, but he was up against a master of nervousness in Gene Wilder. Even so, he managed to establish his own performance and maintained it superbly, with some of the funniest business of the evening. His singing and dancing were great too, while the standard of the whole cast was excellent. Good luck to everyone with their careers.

My final mention has to be those Nazi pigeons. Operated by the female members of the cast, they flew around, perched everywhere, sang a rousing song, gave Nazi salutes (with the armbands, too) and generally stole the show. (Never work with animals, puppets, animal puppets …… )

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Hamlet – June 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Tuesday 12th June 2012

I would rate this production higher than my experience of it; the unseasonal cold, the plethora of aeroplanes and helicopters as well as general fatigue, all combined to reduce my enjoyment of a brisk, clear and surprisingly funny performance with some interesting staging choices.

To begin with, the stage had a triangular section added on at the front, and this had steps on each side for access. In front of the balcony was a scaffold, with a narrow platform along the top and a ladder at our end (stairs at the other?). I thought they would make more use of this, for the battlement scenes for example, but it only served as the lobby. Underneath this platform was an entranceway with benches and lots of hanging space, where cast members would lurk either before an entrance or, more usually, to play their instruments – there was plenty of music in this production. Ropes were strung between the two main pillars and between the left-hand pillar and the scaffold, and red curtains were draped over them, allowing for the arras and for some nifty changes during the Mousetrap scene. I noticed some chalk marks in the centre of the stage, for all the world looking like they were due some roadworks, but these simply indicated the locations for the steps and boards that created the makeshift locations. The two boards were leaning against each pillar, while the three sets of steps were short and wide, and were used in various configurations, even doubling as thrones when the boards were slotted in behind them. Finally, there were two brooms, which played a small but entertaining part in the Mousetrap.

The cast pottered about the stage beforehand, chatting here and there and generally getting the stage ready for the show. The costumes were 1930s working class, though the women had smarter frocks, and the king and queen each had a fancy robe to wear over their clothes so we would know who they were. With only eight actors, it was quite an achievement that we always knew who was who, and some of the little cameos were great fun, Osric especially. When I realised that Claudius and Gertrude were doubling as the player king and queen, I was immediately intrigued as to how they would pull this off – more on that story later.

They began with a song; didn’t hear the words clearly, but it was a lively number. From the program notes, I was aware that this touring production, while based on the Folio version of the play, had been informed by the First Quarto version, itself reckoned to be from a touring version. Although I was aware of some cuts, it didn’t distract me in any way, and the story was told in full, not bad for less than three hours.

After the song, the boards were placed in a forward-pointing V-shape on the stage, and the steps were also placed at the sides, creating the battlements. Francisco was huddled there, spear in hand, and with a warming brazier by his side. I noticed he took it with him when he left – bit selfish, I thought, even if does help to keep the stage clear. Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo did the usual chat, with the ghost (Dickon Tyrrell, doubling with Claudius) entering through the crowd and walking up the right-hand steps. He was wearing a great-coat with a dusting of grey on the shoulders, and did look pretty imposing, sword in hand. After striding across the stage, he exited on the left-hand side(?), leaving Horatio to fill the others in on the military situation. The ghost reappeared through the middle entrance, glowered briefly at Horatio’s impertinence, then turned and strode quickly off stage back right.

The court scene was set up by placing two sets of steps at the back of the chalk square and removing the boards. Claudius stood on the steps to address the court – Hamlet stood, alone, on the front triangle – and as Claudius mentioned Gertrude, he held out his hand to her and she joined him on the steps. The business of state was dealt with very quickly, with Voltemand and Cornelius being despatched to Norway, and Laertes given permission to leave for France. Hamlet’s comment ‘I am too much i’ the sun’ got a good laugh – the sun had no intention of shining today!

Once the court had departed, Hamlet gave us his first soliloquy, and I liked the way it was clearly directed at the audience instead of being a personal speech which the audience just happens to overhear. Michael Benz’s delivery was quick and clear, and while this style didn’t allow for much sense of introspection, nor much detail in the characterisation, the story was nice and easy to follow. I also spotted that when Hamlet compares his father and uncle, his choice of comparison likens his father to Hercules, indicating just how much he hero-worshipped the man, while deprecating his own abilities at the same time. Bernardo was absent from the delegation reporting the ghost’s visitations to Hamlet, and the appointment for that night’s vigil was soon arranged.

Polonius’s house used the steps in combination, with Laertes and Polonius having to climb over one set of steps to enter the house, or so it seemed. Laertes’s warning to his sister was brief (would that he got that trait from his father!) but was clearly motivated by his concern that Hamlet, regardless of his affection, was not free to choose his own wife. Polonius’s concern, as expressed later, was that Hamlet was just toying with Ophelia, and that she would be cast off as soon as someone better came along. Laertes nearly escaped this time; only the firm grasp of his father’s hand prevented him from leaving until he had sat through the long litany of fatherly advice, although even these wise words had been edited. There was almost no delay after Laertes left before Polonius asked Ophelia what they had been talking about, and that exchange was soon completed as well, with Polonius forbidding Ophelia to spend any time with Hamlet.

The battlements were set up again, and before long the ghost was on the prowl. He stood in the front right corner of the stage, majestically beckoning Hamlet to follow, while Hamlet dealt with Horatio and Marcellus. As he broke free from them, threatening them with his sword, the ghost turned and left, with Hamlet close on his heels. I had thought the scaffold platform might be used for the next scene, but again it was all done on the main stage, and rattled through in a pretty standard way. When Horatio and Marcellus arrived, I thought Hamlet might have been thinking of telling them the truth, but then he changed his mind and informed them that villains are arrant knaves, a case of stating the bleedin’ obvious. For the swearing section, they crossed the stage a couple of times to follow the voice, and Hamlet’s demonstration of head-shaking and the rest raised a few laughs.

With the stage cleared, Polonius threw a small bag of money to Reynaldo with the opening remarks of the next scene. Reynaldo seemed to be quite up to speed on his job this time, but took careful notes in his book of all that Polonius said, which made it easier to jog his memory when necessary. I don’t remember hearing the ‘carp of truth’ line, but the bulk of the dialogue was covered, and Christopher Saul’s Polonius warmed the audience up by bringing out the humour nicely. Ophelia’s speech was good; I was aware of how frightening such an experience would be, and her description conjured up very clear pictures in my mind.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern made an amusing entrance, carrying not just bags but tennis rackets and one or two golf clubs as well. Presumably to reflect the inconsistency in their names between the First Quarto and the other texts, Claudius got their names completely wrong this time, calling Guildenstern by a mangled version of Rosencrantz’s name and calling Rosencrantz ‘Guggenheim’. Gertrude doesn’t get a chance to correct him till they’re nearly out of the door, but with their names so well known to the audience, we had a couple of good laughs from this mistake.

I forget where they did the ambassadors bit; it may have been before R&G, or possibly just after, but either way Polonius didn’t introduce them. Steve had the impression that Voltemand was an inexperienced ambassador who had been hoodwinked by the King of Norway into believing that he, the king, had been completely unaware of Fortinbras’s intentions. In reality, he had probably instigated the whole thing, and when his plot was discovered, simply fobbed the Danish ambassador off with a plausible excuse, while at the same time arranging a way for Fortinbras and his troops to get onto Danish soil without opposition. A neat trick. I saw none of this myself, but I’ve been concerned about this Polish expedition ploy for many years, and I like it when there’s some sign of discomfort over it, unless it’s dropped completely, of course.

Polonius’s long rambling speeches were well appreciated today, and he stood at the front of the triangle to read the letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, with the king and queen on either side. That done, they soon finished plotting to overhear Hamlet’s conversation with Ophelia, and when Hamlet himself turned up with his book, he was dressed in a strange outfit, as befitted his pretence of madness. He wore a vest, red shorts, white leggings and a red biretta; the outfit on its own raised a laugh. After Polonius’s departure, Hamlet looked very happy to see R&G, as he had been with Horatio. Through the opening greetings, and the banter about fortune’s ‘privates’, which was followed by a physical man-dance which also had us laughing, Hamlet seemed unconcerned about their arrival, but that changed pretty quickly when they proved completely unable to think of any plausible lies to cover their requested presence. Hamlet’s speech about his lack of delight in the physical world was well done, especially following such a jokey start to the scene, and Rosencrantz’s explanation of his laugh seemed genuine this time.

The actors arrived, and I was immediately aware that the Mousetrap was going to be tricky to stage with this casting. The player’s speech was fine, and Polonius’s chatter very entertaining as usual. The ‘rogue and peasant slave’ speech was very good, again talking to the audience and involving us at every stage. The next scene was also brisk, and soon the curtain had been drawn across one of the ropes for Claudius and Polonius to hide behind while Ophelia spoke with Hamlet. ‘To be or not to be’ was OK, and Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia brought out a lot of his anger, though without the violence that is often used to get the point across. Ophelia was facing the curtain when Hamlet asked her where her father was; I couldn’t see her reaction, but Hamlet was immediately aware that something was going on, and upped the tempo of his diatribe. After he left and Ophelia had expressed her reactions, Polonius and Claudius were typically unsympathetic to the poor girl, with Polonius snatching back the book he’d given her at the start of the scene.

Next came the big scene: the Mousetrap. Hamlet gave some brief advice to the players before asking for Horatio’s help to scrutinise the king during the performance. Two thrones had been set up to the rear of the pillars, and when Claudius and Gertrude arrived with the rest of the court, they sat there ready for the start. From our side view, I didn’t see the curtain being drawn across at first, but it was, and we could see the actors change their costumes and rearrange the set for the players. With this done – it only took a few seconds – the curtain was drawn back and the play began, with the husband and wife carrying out the dumb show. The boards had been removed from the steps, which then became the bed the player king lay on. With the king killed by poison, the queen is at first distraught, but was soon distracted when the poisoner presented her with some gaudy baubles. The whole dumb show was done at a lively pace, and with only a few comments from Hamlet and Ophelia, they then went straight into the actual play. Much cut, the player king was soon lying on the bed again while his wife left him, and the curtain was swiftly drawn across the stage. A few quick changes, and it was drawn back again, so that we could hear the minimal exchanges between Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius. Again the curtain, and this time a dummy represented the sleeping ruler. When the poison was poured in the dummy’s ear, a little smoke poured out, and then we heard the line ‘the king rises’. The king and queen came out of the audience and exited at the back of the stage, leaving Hamlet on the stage with Horatio.

R&G were followed by Polonius, and the lines about the shape of the cloud were more relevant here with the open roof (and plenty of clouds to look at!). Claudius knelt to say his prayers at the very front of the V, while Hamlet came on from the back, went through his usual thought process, and left to visit his mother. With Claudius’s final lines, we were finally at the interval, and I could stretch my stiff legs a bit.

For the restart, and the closet scene, the side curtain was drawn again to provide an arras; otherwise, Gertrude’s room was rather bare. Polonius was killed very quickly, and the body covered with the curtain. When comparing Gertrude’s two husbands, Hamlet held two small photos in front of her as she knelt at the front of the stage; although he seemed to get through to her at this point, once he’d seen the ghost and she couldn’t, she became more concerned that he was actually mad. She stood next to the ghost at one point, and he raised his hand as if to touch her, but she moved again before he could. When Claudius turned up, she seemed more convinced of Hamlet’s madness than colluding with him to keep Claudius in the dark.

The next scene had Hamlet lugging a body, wrapped in the red cloth, up to the platform where he left it. R&G came on stage while Hamlet was still up there, and he came down quickly to speak to them. The dialogue with Claudius was nicely done, with humour in the comments about heaven and hell, and the father/mother conundrum.

Fortinbras was definitely present in this production, and with a small change to his costume, Peter Bray gave us a strong military leader, very decisive and ruthless. Hamlet’s soliloquy after the soldier’s explanation was very truncated but got the point across – now he’s going to take action! Ophelia’s mad scenes were OK – they’re not my favourite – but Carlyss Peer has a lovely singing voice, and again the dialogue was very clear. She didn’t carry anything with her, but picked up imaginary flowers from the ground, which in some ways was even more moving than seeing an Ophelia with armfuls of flowers or weeds. Laertes burst onto the stage without the usual preamble, and was very forceful at first. Again I found myself thinking that Claudius was chancing his arm when he talked about ‘such divinity doth hedge a king’ – didn’t do his brother much good.

Horatio came on alone to read his letter, and then Claudius and Laertes did their plotting. Gertrude reported Ophelia’s death, and then played the part of the second gravedigger, with the boards being set up to create a ‘raised bed’ grave. I nodded a bit during this section, but perked up when we got to the next scene, with Hamlet telling Horatio about R&G. Osric was a wonderful peacock of a man, primping his way across the stage, and got more laughs than most of the comedy bits.

The fencing scene was as brisk as the rest of the performance, and Hamlet was soon two hits to nil up. Gertrude drank the poisoned wine, despite Claudius’s warning, and sat to the right of the stage afterwards, where she eventually collapsed. The warlike volley was noticeable, but although the ambassador from England was mentioned, he didn’t appear on stage for the finale. Instead Fortinbras (Osric must have run away when people started dying – a wise move) strode on stage, and with only a few lines established his intentions. I was aware that his line ‘with sorrow I embrace my fortune’ echoed Claudius’s words at the start, about ‘mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage’. His ‘go, bid the soldiers shoot’ was not specific in this production; I assumed it was a salute to Hamlet, but it wasn’t fully clear.

Fortinbras then stood at the front of the stage and started drumming one foot on the floor, creating a strong beat. Ophelia came on and began to ‘wake up’ the other dead bodies, starting with Laertes. Eventually the whole cast were on their feet, singing, dancing and playing their instruments to finish off with a happy number, slightly bizarre for a tragedy. We clapped along all the same, and applauded when they took their bows. The overall response from the audience was very positive; while I accept that a touring production has to limit itself, I did feel that such a quick tour through the play’s highlights left a lot to be desired. On the plus side, the story and lines were very well delivered, and I did get some fresh insights, which I like. On the down side, the level of humour meant that I felt less involved with the characters – this is a tragedy, after all. The performances were all very good given the choices made, and I hope they get equally responsive audiences on tour.

Finally, the brooms. During the Mousetrap, when Gonzago was lying on his bed the first time, two attendants were standing behind him, waving fans made of gold leaves stuck on the business ends of the brooms. Whether it was the movement or the draft, I don’t know, but Gonzago was irritated by them, and made an impatient gesture for them to stop, which caused a ripple of laughter.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Children’s Children – June 2012


By Matthew Dunster

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Monday 11th June 2012

The title of this play is meant to reflect the concern over what sort of planet we’re leaving to our children’s children, but apart from a long speech about the oil industry ruining parts of our planet – the environment and the people’s lives – this wasn’t really what the play was about. It concerned the relationships among a group of people, several of whom had been friends from their younger days, and charted the ups and downs in their relationships as the wheel of fortune turned. At times it was very funny, at times it was a bit dull, but although it could easily be criticised for a number of reasons, the overall story arc was strong and compelling enough to keep me in my seat for the second half – not everyone felt that way judging by the gaps after the interval.

Each act was introduced by a monologue from one of the characters, with a final monologue rounding the play off. For the first act we heard from Louisa, Michael’s second wife and the outsider of the group. Michael had previously been married to Clare, and with the other couple, Gordon and Sally, they had all gone to drama school together. None of them had made it big until a few years earlier, when Michael suddenly became ‘Mr Saturday Night’ through TV presenting, rather than acting, and after a couple of years not seeing much of each other, Gordon and Sally are visiting Michael and Louisa for lunch. Also included are Ellie, Gordon and Sally’s daughter and Michael’s god-daughter, and her boyfriend Castro, a wannabe film director.

The set was a stylish modern sitting room, with shelves on the right and windows to the left, doors either side, and prints of comic characters (Flash, Green Lantern, Iron Man) on the walls. The bottom shelf held a vast array of alcoholic drinks, the second shelf was mainly books, while the top shelf had a big ‘WOW’ along with some pottery. The colours were plain but strong, and the overall effect was of money and success. Louisa was a nervous talker, frequently changing direction, while Michael was a typical alpha male, dominating the conversation and giving excessive amounts of detail about the way sherry is made – his latest thing. Gordon was an unpleasant straight talker, while Sally was clearly having a lot of problems coping with their situation, which became clearer as the scene played out. Castro was a nice lad, almost the only decent character in the play in some ways, but there were already signs that he wouldn’t actually achieve anything despite his strong desire to address social problems in his films. His African background – his family were Zambian – gave him an interest in the exploitation of that continent’s natural resources and people, hence his knowledge of oil exploration and gas flaring later on.  Ellie was the most obviously obnoxious character from the word go; a sulky, spoiled brat, she didn’t like anything much, and although her father’s violence and threats towards her were shocking to watch, I got the impression that she was too far gone to respond to anything else.

After some initial chat, Gordon makes it clear that he wants to talk with Michael alone, so the others are hustled out of the way. Gordon spins Michael a real sob story about his financial difficulties, and Michael is broadly sympathetic. He’s made it big, the money’s no big deal to him, lifelong friends, etc. Gordon finally produces a figure of £50, 000 – enough to clear his immediate debts, and Michael is fine with that. Then the figure gets bumped up to include all the debts, and Michael’s suggesting £100,000. Then there’s the need for Gordon to set himself up in his own business, making use of his gardening skills – he’s had no acting work for a long time – so it’s up to £175,000. And finally Gordon plays his trump card; Ellie’s pregnant, Michael’s her god-father, so before you know it, the total sum is £250,000, and in cash! (So the banks won’t get their hands on it.) At this point, it looks like a generous gesture from one friend who’s had huge success, towards another friend who’s completely out of luck.

The second act began with Sally’s monologue, when she told us how important Dorset was to her. Apparently she and Gordon had been joined on their honeymoon by Michael and Clare, with the group getting so smashed on the wedding night that Sally fell asleep in wedding dress on the floor while the other three ended up in the bed together. What larks! The set had been changed to show a garden setting, with the walls swung round to give the French doors and a garden wall, a table and chairs, lounger and a swimming pool at the back. This was the house in Dorset which Michael mentioned he was buying in the first act, which was close to where Sally and Gordon got married. They were now staying at the house from time to time, usually when Michael and Louisa weren’t there, and much more often than Michael and Louisa knew about. On this occasion Ellie and Castro, along with their baby (whom we never see) were also staying, and it was during the family rows that I started to nod off a bit, family rows being much the same wherever you go. It’s fine to show these things in all their natural awfulness, but they don’t necessarily have dramatic value nor do they create any tension or sense of jeopardy. Still, once Michael and Louisa turned up, there was plenty of both.

The end of Sally’s monologue had hinted at a change of fortune for Michael, and so it was no surprise when he and Louisa turned up unexpectedly at their country retreat to avoid the press. Michael had finally been accused of sexual assault and harassment by a couple of women at the TV studio, and although Sally talked convincingly of his innocence, Louisa was clearly not sure. Michael was in a very bad temper, understandably, but did calm down enough to share with Gordon that, while he intended to tell Louisa the truth, he wasn’t sure yet which truth it would be – it depended on how many women came forward. He started to put pressure on Gordon over the money he’d given him, the investment in the business, and when he could expect to get some of it back; Gordon fobbed him off as best he could, but it was clear he hadn’t put an ounce of effort into setting up a business. The act ended with Sally getting a call from her agent about an audition, with the prospect of a TV series; the wheel of fortune was taking another turn.

They took the interval after act two, which gave the stage crew plenty of time to set up the third act set – a fancy modern kitchen with a table and chairs to our right and the appliances and work island to the left. The door was roughly in the middle. The monologue this time was done by Castro, who expressed his dislike for Ellie and the whole family. He felt he was caught up in their lives and seemed to want to get free, but would he actually have the nerve?

Since act two, Michael had gone to prison and lost everything, including Louisa. Gordon had died, and act three took place after the funeral. Louisa was there, and with both of their menfolk out of the way, she and Sally came across as stronger people. Sally had been successful at the audition, so this new house was entirely her doing, while Ellie’s looks had resulted in modelling work, and she had also produced a range of clothing for mothers and daughters – completely identical clothes. She was also adept at using the social media as part of her marketing strategy, so although she was still vain, self-centred and thoroughly unpleasant to everyone, she was at least making a success of her life commercially. Castro was very unhappy about this, but despite his strong convictions, the world had yet to see any visible results from his film-making.

This act did develop the attraction between him and Louisa. We’d seen it during the first two acts; she’d been uncomfortable about it because of his relationship with Ellie, especially once he was the father of her child, but she was also the only person who seemed to be really interested in his ideas and passions. The result of this was a ten minute monologue about the damage being done to the environment and local cultures by the oil giants, Shell in particular. He even talked about how people in the West found these subjects boring, and tuned out of any discussion of them, which was true of most of the audience tonight. But it showed us the positive side of Castro, a side we hadn’t been able to see before because the other characters were always shutting him up, and it also allowed Sally to change her attitude towards him; she’d been heavily into charity work when Michael had lots of money to give away, so she had both empathy for Castro’s ideals and an understanding of how often the talk wasn’t converted into real action.

The changes and character development were interesting enough, but then Michael turned up, looking like he was sleeping rough, and demanding that Sally repay the £250,000 he had lent to Gordon years ago. Ellie was so angry that he’d even turned up that she went for him and had to be restrained, while even Sally, up to now the most tolerant of people, had the most vicious rant at him and the other two in their original group, Clare and Gordon. All her resentment of the way they’d treated her, all her suspicions of betrayal came pouring out in an almost incoherent torrent of words. She grasped the work island and was bent almost double as she relieved herself of all the bile and bitterness she’d stored up. And in a wonderful touch of black comedy, when she turned around and saw Louisa standing in the doorway, she became apologetic for having said all those things in front of her.

The reactions to Michael wanting his money back were interesting. Sally and Ellie disclaimed all knowledge of the £250,000. They had been told, by Gordon, that he’d got £10,000 from Michael to pay off the mortgage, and nothing else. (I wasn’t sure if that had been paid back to Michael or not.) The rest was news to them, and when Michael said he’d paid Gordon in cash, he suddenly looked like the biggest idiot in the world. Louisa knew about the loan, but she wouldn’t confirm or deny anything; she was still angry with Michael for throwing away the good life they both had, and was focused on getting him out of the house. She told Ellie to call the police and tell them that Michael was in the house and was threatening them; given his background, the police wouldn’t be happy with that situation. This led to the funniest bit of the play; after Ellie had called 999, she yelled into the phone that ‘Michael fucking Stewart was in her house and she wanted him fucking out’ or words to that effect. After a pause, she said, quite calmly, ‘police, please’ – we all knew what the rest of the conversation had been. [I checked the text later – that wasn’t in the original script.]

After Michael left, the act soon finished, and then the play was rounded off with a monologue from Ellie, again expecting, twins this time. She was ever so proud of her daughter’s first blog (not that her daughter was actually writing it, of course), and she spent some time telling us about the naming options they’d come up with for the twins, one boy and one girl. The girl was easy – there were lots of African names which had beautiful meanings. She had wanted to name the boy after her father, but Gordon? Although it wasn’t the most clear-cut ending, this speech did round off the play well enough, and could be seen as an upbeat ending in some ways.

While it kept me watching, I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the play. I can’t put my finger on the reason for it, but it just didn’t fully engage me. It’s fine to pose the questions without having any answers, but what questions was this play posing exactly? It’s still enjoyable enough, and the performances were all absolutely excellent, but I wouldn’t expect to see it again anytime soon.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Volcano – June 2012


By Noel Coward

Directed by Roy Marsden

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Thursday 7th June 2012

Both Steve and I were strongly reminded of a Somerset Maugham play when the curtain rose on this set: the tropical island setting, the sound of the insects and the sense of the heat, although the couple in a sexual clinch on the ground was perhaps a tad unusual. The similarity was enhanced because Jenny Seagrove had been in The Letter, a Maugham play we saw back in 2007. In this current production she played Adele, the widow of a plantation owner on the fictional island of Samolo. She was attracted to Guy Littleton, a married man who’d been spending time on the island for business reasons, and to enjoy her company, but her past experiences have left her reluctant to become involved in such a liaison. His wife Melissa arrived on the island to check up on this possible affair, and her visit coincided with the arrival of one of Adele’s friends, Ellen, a fresh young thing whose own recent marriage was running into trouble. With Guy finding Ellen more amenable than Adele, Melissa had a tough time of it, and her jealousy led them all into danger when she refused to leave Adele’s house until Guy and Ellen returned from a trip up the erupting volcano on which Adele’s house is built.

After the eruption, Ellen’s husband Keith finally turned up, and we learned what a small world it is; Guy and Keith were at school together, with Keith hero-worshipping Guy above and beyond. The relationships eventually resolved themselves, and Adele was finally left to enjoy her solitude and run her plantation.

There were good performances all round and a lovely set, but somewhat ropey effects during the eruption itself which caused some sniggers from the audience. We enjoyed ourselves well enough, and although this isn’t Coward’s best work, it’s still worth reviving from time to time.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me