Takin’ Over The Asylum – February 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Donna Franceschild

Directed by Mark Thomson

Co-production by Citizens Theatre and Royal Lyceum Edinburgh

Venue: Citizens Theatre

Date: Tuesday 26th February 2013

The original TV series, broadcast in 1994, was so marvellous that I had to be careful not to expect too much from this stage version. I didn’t have to worry: within minutes the cast had created their own world and drawn us in, and with the action all taking place within the hospital itself, the sense of confinement was probably stronger than with the TV version which showed us a wider range of locations.

This stage version covered the same overall story with only a few changes as far as I could remember, and focused the scenes in the day room beside the old radio station, with a small outside space (for the smokers). The set had the radio booth on the left, windows across the back and the entrance on the right, with a small entrance lobby on the other side. The rest of the space was the day room, with a few chairs and a flatscreen TV on a table front right, facing into the room. In front of the stage on the right was a small section of metal stairway. I couldn’t see much more detail than this from our angle on the far left of the front row.

The play began with Aileen dictating the viewing preferences of the other inmates. When Eddie arrived, he began setting up the St Jude hospital radio, and came into conflict with that evening’s viewing schedule. Apparently between Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for a 7-9pm radio show, even one playing excellent 60s soul music. But with the help of Campbell (manic depressive), Rosalie (compulsive cleaner), Fergus (schizophrenic technical wizard and serial escapee) and Francine (self-harmer), the radio station established itself, changing the lives of some of the inmates and giving us a chance to see them as people; with difficulties, true, but people all the same.

Apart from Aileen, the scariest ‘inmate’ was Stuart, the male nurse who frequently exerted his authority in an unpleasant manner until an attempt to take Aileen’s mobile phone from her resulted in a culinary threat which made him back off (“your balls are pancakes”). The deputy administrator Evelyn was something of a martinet, in a friendly, cardigan-wearing kind of way, and there were strong hints that but for the attitudes of their nearest and dearest outside the hospital, these people would be living happy, productive lives.

The story had been updated to include references to more recent music, TV etc., and Fergus even brought a laptop into the studio. When the radio station was threatened with closure, a switch to online broadcasting provided an alternative outlet, and there were references to Simon Sharma as a suitable role model for an interview persona. The updating worked really well; I don’t know how much, if anything, had to be changed in relation to the mental health laws, but I suspect things have probably got worse rather than better – a program note would have been helpful.

Our view was pretty good. I couldn’t see Francine crying in a corner in the first scene nor in one of the later ones, but apart from that we saw most of the action in both halves. I noticed a lot of water running down the windows during several scenes – I’d forgotten just how much it rains in Glasgow. Steve was more affected than I was and would have rated the experience higher; I still found the performance moving and I’m glad to say my sniffles were entirely due to the emotional effect and not to any incipient cold. That reminds me: I did like Rosalie’s comment about the radiothon podcast going ‘viral’ – as soon as she said the word we could see she wasn’t keen on the idea, and her next line confirmed that.

The performances were all very good, and after a slowish start we were hooked into the characters and their situations, just as we had been with the TV series. I felt that Fergus’s death was less emotive, as they simply reported it instead of us seeing him on the roof, but the hang-gliding was still in there – we caught a glimpse of someone flying past the windows, with much cheering from the inmates – and the sense of waste was still strong. Knowing the truth about Harriet the bag lady made Eddie’s references to her very funny at times, and there was plenty of humour all through the evening, especially in Campbell’s manic DJing, to offset the sadness and suffering. Brian Vernel, who played Campbell, has still to finish his training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, though what they have left to teach him is anybody’s guess.

The whole ensemble was good though, the 60s music was brilliant, and the packed house gave them an excellent reception. As we left we were handed a flyer for Doctor Faustus, due here in April – I think they were a bit surprised when we said we’d already seen it!

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Doctor Faustus – February 2013

Experience: 7/10

By Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan

Directed by Dominic Hill

Co-production by West Yorkshire Playhouse and Citizens Theatre

Venue: Quarry Theatre

Date: Monday 25th February 2013

This was a bonus performance for us; on our way to Glasgow for Takin’ Over The Asylum tomorrow night, we needed to stop off somewhere and Leeds was a good option. As this was only the second(?) performance, we didn’t expect too much, but I felt this was a remarkable production which fused some modern rewriting of the central sections with Marlowe’s original beginning and end, and came up with a much more accessible piece. Normally I’m not a fan of ‘accessibility’, but I find Marlowe’s work can be tedious and often unintelligible without significant research into the background. Even then he’s not always the most fun to watch, so anything that helps to put this play across to a modern audience has to be good in my view.

We sat on the left-hand aisle, four rows back. To left and right on the stage were two rows of makeup tables, with lights round the mirrors. The middle area of the stage held a double bed (centre back), a washstand on the left with a TV next to it in the front left corner, and a desk and chair front right. There was a standalone door back right with a Portaloo partially hidden behind it, and several old-style CRT TVs around the place, showing nothing but snow. There was a background hum, and occasional announcements in a female voice which we couldn’t make out – a bit like hearing the one-sided conversations coming over the radio in a taxi. (They were meant to be backstage announcements, judging by the middle section of the play.)

Behind all this were some long steps and a curtain, which when opened revealed a shallower stage to the rear of the main one. The curtain was fully removed later, and a hospitality table laden with champagne stood to one side on this upper level. Amongst various items of clothing, chairs, etc. we spotted a panda head sitting on the floor to our right, next to the makeup tables on that side; neither of us spotted it in action, so I don’t know if we missed it or if it was simply cut. The TV screens never showed any pictures, so perhaps there were technical glitches, or perhaps that was also down to the usual state of flux in the early performances. Steve noticed from the text that the final Chorus speech had been cut, though as the ending was a bit uncertain tonight, perhaps it might be back in later on.

It was clear from the outset that this was a modernised reworking, even before I read the details in the programme notes. With some uncertainty over the provenance of Marlowe’s ‘original’, which was published in two different editions after his death, and the likelihood that some of the comic scenes were by other writers and only inserted to poke fun at the Pope and his cardinals following the excommunication of Elizabeth I, the creative team felt comfortable with producing a major adaptation to bring out the central themes of the work in terms familiar to contemporary culture: greed, celebrity, dissing God, etc. Overall this approach worked well, and it’s a production well worth catching if you can.

Before the start of the play, a young Faustus was brought on to sit on the bed as the cast filtered onto the sides of the stage, getting themselves ready. The Chorus was shared between various actors, and a short demonstration of Faustus’s parents leaving him in the room with a packet of crisps and just the TV for company illustrated their low-born status. The older Faustus soon appeared though, and with pauses between scenes to change the set as needed, we learned of his contempt for all other studies except necromancy and saw his first efforts to raise Mephistopheles.

During his initial speech Faustus used a laptop to access the various subjects he was referring to, but he brought out a proper book for the necromancy parts. His good and bad angels tussled verbally for a while, then the good angel, a woman dressed all in white and with a white fur hat, retired to a chair to knit while the bad angel slouched in the opposite corner.

The discussion with his friends wasn’t entirely clear to me, but I did gather that they had been involved with magic for some time and were keen to teach Faustus what they knew. In the next scene, Faustus brought in a bag which appeared to contain a bloody something (possibly a head?), and used the blood to mark out a circle on the floor. The lights were down for this bit – it was night after all – so it was hard to see exactly what was going on. His comments about the other markings on the ground seemed a bit over the top, since all we saw were those few bloody smears, but perhaps they were markings he’d prepared earlier.

Mephistopheles initially emerged through the sofa bed in a hideous form at first, then at Faustus’ command he sank back into the bed and a minute or so later a nun entered through the door – Mephistopheles in disguise. Played by Siobhan Redmond, this Mephistopheles had been a man in the past, and was now damned for all eternity along with Lucifer. Wagner, Faustus’s servant, was also a female role in this version, leading to some interesting scenes later on.

Skipping on to the signing of the deed of gift, Faustus wrote the deed in his own blood, it congealed, Mephistopheles brought fire, cupped in her hands, to soften it, and then the fun began. One of the chaps sitting at the side was wearing a short tutu or petticoat. As soon as Faustus declared that he wanted a wife, this man leapt up, all excited, and rushed to put on a bridal gown hanging at the back of the tables. With the dress, a wig and a bouquet, he was ready and eager at the door as soon as Mephistopheles let her in. Between ‘her’ arrival and Faustus’s line “A plague on her for a hot whore” there was some very heavy petting going on until Faustus realised he’d been had. Later, when Faustus was exploring the book Mephistopheles had given him, the bad angel helped him to locate all the items he asked for, which was mildly amusing.

The Chorus’s description of Faustus’s eight-day journey to view the heavens was cut, so the next scene showed Faustus questioning Mephistopheles about astronomy. Given that our knowledge is much greater now, Mephistopheles’s answers seemed absurd, and left me with the impression that she was telling Faustus whatever he wanted to hear instead of the truth, assuming she knew what it was, of course. As Steve pointed out, Mephistopheles had died long before, so perhaps this was up-to-date for her. Even so, there were one or two pauses before her replies which suggested she was considering the options. Admittedly this section was still the original so the astronomical ‘facts’ did fit the period, but when the piece has been so thoroughly modernised, this lapse into an older time-frame seemed a little discordant.

After Faustus upset Mephistopheles with a reference to God creating the Earth, she left to refer the matter up the management chain – now there’s a version of hell I can relate to! This was when the curtain at the back opened up enough to give us an extra bit of stage, and with a bright light shining through from the back, and Lucifer in a white suit (or was it the shiny one this time?) we were in game show territory. Beelzebub was a no-show, and I think this was where the rest of the cast abandoned the makeup tables and got more directly involved.

The seven deadly sins were entertaining, with actors done up in appropriate masks and costumes, so that although I didn’t always catch the names, I could tell who was who. Mephistopheles played the glamorous hostess, welcoming each of them onto the stage, but when it was the turn of Sloth, she held out her arms…..and nothing. We laughed. She headed into the wings and dragged the lazy bugger onto the stage where he flopped onto the ground and refused to move unless forced to. Now that’s what I call sloth! Lucifer gave Faustus a book as a parting gift, which Faustus promised to keep safe – “This I will keep as chary as my life”.

Following this scene, the stage was transformed more substantially than before to turn it into a dressing room. While this went on, we heard the closing lines of the previous scene over the tannoy, and then Faustus appeared, coming off stage for the interval of his magic show. Between mouthfuls of food, chatting up Wagner and sparring with Mephistopheles, who has some great lines in this section, Faustus eventually changed his outfit and he and Mephistopheles headed off for their second half, at which point I think we took our interval (the text has it later).

The next scene was also in the dressing room, only this time Saxon Bruno, an aging rock star, and Robyn, his girlfriend, were with Faustus. Not that Bruno can remember her name; she’s just the latest disposable pussy. Faustus got very excited when Bruno suggested that he, Faustus, could join him and his band on their next tour, but deflated when it turned out they only wanted him so that he could do some of his magic tricks – explosions and the like – instead of being in the band. (Faustus had played air guitar a number of times, and thanks to Mephistopheles’s magic, an actual guitar riff had sounded each time.) In the text, Faustus takes his revenge by swapping Bruno’s dick and Robyn’s female parts; in performance it became Mephistopheles’s little revenge on Bruno for behaving disrespectfully towards her. Robyn’s dress developed a large bulge (must have made it bigger as well, then) which was drawn irresistibly to Bruno’s nether regions, and she was soon fucking him senseless at the back of the room. After Bruno ran off, with Robyn in hot pursuit, Faustus received the telephone call he’d been waiting for – an invitation to play Las Vegas for the President’s birthday party.

The Las Vegas scenes were still set in the dressing room, with one or two changes to the furnishings. Wagner was preparing for the special guests – setting up the champagne, etc. – while Faustus was trying to connect with her, to have a more meaningful relationship. He did find out that her first name was Grace, symbolically appropriate, and all the time Mephistopheles kept an eye on them to thwart any possible escape from his contract.

Wagner waited in the dressing room while Faustus, helped by Mephistopheles, did his turn for the president. We heard it over the tannoy, but the sound quality wasn’t good enough for me to make it all out. I did gather that Abraham Lincoln was produced to say a few lines, and then Faustus came back to his dressing room to celebrate his success. (Or we had an interval, according to the text.)

The next scene was acted out to the strains of Viva Las Vegas, played loud or soft, depending on whether there was dialogue to listen to. Several of the cast performed a little dance routine on the rear stage, with Mephistopheles and others joining them later, and this dance went on for a long time – quite a workout for them.

Mephistopheles was running a little side line, recruiting new souls for damnation, and in a similar vein to the porter scene in Macbeth, we met a banker, a media mogul and another character who were each given contracts to sign by Mephistopheles from a bundle she had ready. When the banker queried the ‘soul’ bit, he was reassured by her reply that it was “only applicable in the event you have one”, which was well appreciated by the audience.

Even the Pope turned up to have a chat with Faustus, making theological points to remind him that even Lucifer is dependent on God for his existence. A nice addition to the text here: when Mephistopheles offered to entertain the Pope, he refused at first as per the script, but then made a comment that since he’d resigned…., and joined her in the dance. He was a nifty little mover, too.

The President arrived, slightly preceded by three security men in black suits and sunglasses. They kept a wary eye on everything and everyone. After Faustus welcomed the President, he announced another little surprise, and in a few moments we saw Marilyn Monroe slink on stage. The big blond wig hid her face, but from her appearance I guessed it was the same demon who had been Faustus’s bride earlier. Marilyn sang her throaty little ‘Happy Birthday’ song, after which she shimmied over to the President to sit on his lap, and soon they were kissing. Then things got very active very quickly and everyone could see ‘she’ was a demon. The President was hustled away by his security men and everyone else left in a hurry, leaving Faustus alone.

Depressed, he tried to chat up Wagner again, even giving her a necklace of pearls or diamonds, but she wasn’t keen to be involved with him while he was the devil’s disciple. Her exclamation of impatience “Jesus wept!” was followed immediately by “But not for me” from Faustus; by this time I was getting a little fed up with his whinging self-pity. He left to go back to his hotel room, and this was when Mephistopheles told Grace the story of her own downfall; loving a beautiful woman, giving her to the Emperor in return for power and riches, then turning on him and destroying his empire after he discarded the woman. At the end of this scene, Grace and Mephistopheles left together, and it was pretty clear what was in Mephistopheles’s mind; Grace looked like a bunny transfixed by a snake.

With the room in darkness, the security men came back and started hunting around. They heard a noise and disappeared into the Portaloo just before Faustus came back. When Wagner arrived shortly afterwards she started to behave differently towards Faustus, knocking back a glass of champagne before ripping off her coat and revealing the basque and stockings she was wearing. She was on Faustus like a rampant nympho, leading us to suspect this was not the real Grace, and soon they were making the clothes rail shake with their activity. The security men came out of the Portaloo again, and while two of them were sickened by what they saw and ran back into the loo, the third was made of stronger stuff, and spent some time getting a good picture or two on his mobile phone before also hiding.

When the real Wagner turned up, in distress as she had effectively been raped through Mephistopheles taking over her body, Faustus realised what had happened. Despite an attempt to go back to Wittenberg to spend his last remaining years with Grace, Mephistopheles persuaded him that there was no hope of salvation, yet again, and Faustus sent Grace away.

The action was considerably changed from the text for this next bit. The security men came out again and searched the room more thoroughly, pulling a goldfish bowl out of a briefcase, discovering a self-opening box, etc. When they tried to pull their guns out of their holsters they produced flowers instead. Mephistopheles chased them all away at Faustus’s instruction, and then the dressing room was altered again to represent Faustus on the way down. This time he was visited by a Duke and Duchess; she was visibly pregnant. I didn’t catch all the dialogue, but I gathered that she wanted Faustus to do some of his magic for her, produce something special, and he obliged by providing her with black truffles. She gobbled up as many as she could, and then they left.

The next scene had Faustus back in Wittenberg, with the bed and desk back in place – the washstand had never moved. He had several students around him, and they persuaded him to conjure Helen of Troy so that they could see if she was as beautiful as she was reported to be. Faustus obliged, and the same demon who had played Marilyn Monroe appeared as Helen. The wig had long blond curls, the dress was Grecian, and she wafted across the stage looking rather sad, I thought. The students left and Grace turned up to try and save Faustus from himself, while Mephistopheles handed him a dagger so that he could take his own life, a mortal sin of course.

For this scene, Mephistopheles was wearing partial chain mail and had black wings which stuck out at the sides, much less ‘cuddly’ than her earlier incarnations. After a quickie with Helen of Troy, and more pleas from Wagner, Mephistopheles, the students and the good and bad angels, Faustus finally appeared to give in (though not according to the text) and with a final “Ah, Mephistopheles”, he reached out his hand to her and the lights went out. It was an uncertain ending, and there was a pause before anyone applauded, though once we got going the response was strong.

There’s the makings of a very good production in here, although it might take a little longer to bring that out fully. Having read more of the text now, I can see significant changes in the way they’re playing it, with the potential for even more. Some of the stage directions for the new sections are positively fiendish – how on earth would they be able to make a chicken drumstick turn into a dildo? – and the emphasis on the technical side makes this a tricky prospect to pull off. But the cast gave it their all, and there was enough to enjoy and plenty to think about.

The modernisation undoubtedly brought out some of the aspects of the original very clearly, and making use of our society’s current preoccupation with celebrity meshed very nicely with Faustus’s desire for fame and status. There were some losses, though. Despite the Chorus’s references to Faustus mastering his subjects very quickly, his style of dress and adolescent manner was more suggestive of the geeky young man spending most of his time alone in his bedroom, surfing the web and fantasising about all the wonderful things he could achieve, if only he’d get off his arse and actually do something. In this context, his contempt for the respectable avenues of learning could be interpreted as the uninitiated despising what they couldn’t grasp. The effect of this was to give Faustus more of an Everyman aspect, whereas the original, from what I remember, emphasised that Faustus had such a powerful intellect that he was a major prize for Lucifer to win.

The gender-changing added in some ways to the relationships, creating a Faustus-Wagner-Mephistopheles triangle with a sexual aspect which I definitely don’t remember from the original. The down side was losing the focus on the Faustus-Mephistopheles pairing, the central core of the play. In this version, the play became more about Mephistopheles than Faustus, and the sense of humanity constantly falling into the same traps, over and over again, was very strong. Mephistopheles looked thoroughly jaded at having to work with yet another puny example of mankind, whose personal ambition was severely limited by a lack of imagination; not usually an issue in the original, I suspect.

I don’t want to sound too critical, though. Plays are subject to a variety of interpretations, and it’s all too easy to forget that when these classics were written they were referencing contemporary issues, so updating all or part of them is a valid exercise. This new version probably wouldn’t appeal to the purists, but with a largely youthful audience around us, I felt the cast got a good response throughout to help with developing the production. Steve spotted someone at the control desk busily scribbling notes as we left; we don’t know what Dominic Hill looks like, but if we had to put a bet on it….

The performances were good, given that it’s early days, and Siobhan Redmond was superb. She was using a very plummy accent, similar to her Queen Elizabeth in Richard III last year, with very precise diction which made her sound different to the human characters.

I also noticed several echoes of Shakespeare’s work. Apart from the porter scene, the reference to abjuring magic instantly brought to mind Prospero’s line “This rough magic I do abjure”, and of course Shakespeare doesn’t just have a fake Helen of Troy, he provides the real thing in Troilus And Cressida.

Just to catch up with the previous productions I’ve seen: the RSC’s production in 1989/90 was probably a good one, but I found it dreary. I had hoped for more, with Marlowe being such a respected writer and all. The production at Chichester in 2004 had some good points, but it included a promenade during the central section which dissipated the energy as far as I was concerned, while the final scenes, played out in Chichester Cathedral, were difficult to hear – lovely setting, shame about the echo. I’d be willing to see another production some time which relied more on the original published texts just to compare with this experience, and I’ll be careful not to expect too much from it.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Winter’s Tale – February 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 21st February 2013

While it was lovely to see this production a second time, the surprise factor was missing, so although the individual performances had all improved, I couldn’t rate the experience any higher than before. This time we sat over by the left walkway, and the change of angle brought out some interesting aspects we hadn’t seen before without blocking our view too much for the rest.

The colourful robes the court were wearing looked like costumes which they had put on to play at being ‘Eastern’; Camillo’s outfit seemed drab by comparison. Archidamus’ lines were much clearer tonight, and I was reminded of TheTaming of the Shrew when Leontes set his wife on Polixenes. Her verbal sparring brought laughter from the court, especially at her mocking use of the word ‘verily’. When the change came, Leontes dropped his fancy robe, so his jealous fit was all enacted in the more sombre colours he would wear for the rest of the first half. Hermione and Polixenes were dancing during the reference to “still virginalling upon his palm”, and there was a second dose of slow motion when Leontes sent his wife and best friend off into the garden.

Leontes circled his hands to represent Hermione’s full belly at ‘no barricade for a belly’, and I thought Camillo was a bit tactless when he harped on about Polixenes not staying at Leontes’ request. There was a lovely pause before Leontes said ‘slippery’, with a strong sibilant ‘s’ at the start. Camillo was amazed at what he heard, but kept his wits about him enough to realise he couldn’t argue with a madman. Leontes showed much suffering as well as his anger and jealousy, and it was hard not to feel some compassion for his madness. Camillo’s conversation with Polixenes was very good, with the details of their dialogue coming across clearly.

During the argument between Leontes and Hermione, he punched her in the stomach which was pretty shocking; last time he just slapped her, which was bad enough. I thought the punch may have been the reason why she delivered Perdita “before her time”. There was a pause after Leontes asked if he’d done well sending to the oracle at Delphi; only one lord responded – “well done, my lord” – and it rang pretty hollow, though the attempt at ‘fairness’ did make Leontes seem a little less deranged.

The messenger who brought the news of Mamillius’ death was one of the nursemaids, and from the way she avoided looking at Leontes as he declared Mamillius’s suffering to be caused by learning of his mother’s dishonour, I felt it was clear that she didn’t agree with the king’s interpretation; it was more likely the effect of discovering his father had gone completely barmy and had put his mother in prison. When Paulina put his little daughter on the cushions, the other men had to hold Leontes off as he went to stamp on the baby or hurt it in some way. Paulina was very strong, standing up to the king when he challenged her over the description of his queen as ‘good’, although it was clear that leaving the baby with this king wasn’t her best idea.

We couldn’t see Leontes so well tonight when he sat on the front steps of the stage during the trial scene, as the tortured chaps and their guard were blocking our view, but I caught glimpses. For “Sir, you speak a language that I understand not”, Hermione used arm and hand movements to illustrate what she was saying as if speaking to a child. Leontes threw this back at her with the line “Your actions are my ‘dreams’”.

When Leontes said “Thy brat has been cast out”, I realised it was the first Hermione has heard of the fate of her baby, and Paulina too for that matter. I saw Paulina’s reaction clearly, as she was on the far diagonal from me at the back of the stage. Hermione went over to her, and they were having some interaction, though I couldn’t make out the detail. Paulina was clearly distressed that her actions had led to the potential death of the baby girl, and from the post-show we learned that Tara Fitzgerald has a range of responses at this moment, from feeling extreme anger with Paulina and wanting to strangle her, to breaking down in tears. Paulina continued to suffer as the scene continued, and the shock of that news led nicely (if I can use that word here) into Hermione’s speech about desiring death. Paulina had a real go at Leontes for ‘killing’ his wife, and in the post-show we learned that Rakie Ayola, who played Paulina, believes that at this point Paulina thinks Hermione is actually dead, but later finds out she isn’t.

We couldn’t see that the boat disappeared from the screen this time as the tower was in our way. However the two shepherds were very good tonight. They seemed to have relaxed into their roles, and took their time a bit more with the lines, getting the points across clearly and getting more laughs as well. David Shaw-Parker played the old shepherd, and was very entertaining as he complained about those silly young folk. I suspect I enjoy these parts more as I get older. Nick Holder as the young shepherd did particularly well with his description of the ship and bear scenarios, punctuating his own interruptions by holding his hands up to stop himself.

The images on the screen during the interval were as before, and for the restart I noticed that Polixenes and Camillo kept to the front of the stage so that the rest of it could stay in darkness, prior to turning into the Bohemian ‘countryside’. Camillo was even more unhappy with the idea of disguises.

Autolycus was much as before but with small variations. He took the ice cream from the man in the right-hand deck chair first, then the bottle of beer from left-hand deck chair, then tried to get the blanket out from under the women front right but she wouldn’t budge until he farted in her face. When she woke up, he then sold her the blanket he’d just taken from her – “My traffic is sheets”. His tent was placed just in front of the tower, and he hid behind it when the young shepherd stirred and started counting fleeces. He and his women had already rolled over and ended up in more sexually active positions, with one of his hands on a breast and the other in a crotch. Perhaps that’s what caused him to wake up?

As the young shepherd was recalling his shopping list, Autolycus stole the sunglasses off the man in the right-hand deck chair, and also broke his fishing rod in half so he could use part of it as a stick. He also smeared some of the raspberry sauce from the ice cream cone onto the side of his face and then, pretending to be blind, he took the shepherd’s purse and watch. In response to the question “a horseman, or a footman?” he pointed out “I’m blind”, and there was humour in the way he slipped up occasionally and made the shepherd suspicious about him. Despite trying to make him blink with sudden hand movements, Autolycus managed to stare into the distance and finally convinced the shepherd he was indeed blind. His final gesture, putting out his hand to shake the shepherd’s and then taking it away at the last minute to thumb his nose, almost gave the game away, but the shepherd just left, shaking his head at this strange behaviour from a blind man. Pearce Quigley also added several slips during Autolycus’s description of himself, starting to say “I” or “me” and then changing it to “he” or “him”. After the shepherd had gone, Autolycus finished his speech, picked up his tent and left, pursued by the accordion player, who rarely left his side. Autolycus paused his song to look at him, then decided it was OK to have him along and started up the song again; they departed together.

When it came to the clog dance, the young shepherd wore a green leafy outfit – the Green Man? – and peed on the audience. Funnily enough, we were in the target area both this time and last. He also dragged Florizel into the middle to do a little solo, and Autolycus did the photography joke again, which was just as funny. For the final stage of the dance, Polixenes and Camillo were brought into the middle of the group and encouraged to sit down with their backs to each other and their legs spread wide. The dancers then did a lot of stamping between their legs, which they were very uncomfortable about, understandably. They got up as soon as they could, and as the dancers dispersed, Polixenes spoke to Florizel “How now, fair shepherd…”. Autolycus seemed to have fewer purses tonight to stash in his turban, and his description of the fate awaiting the shepherd’s son was very funny, not least because of Nick Holder’s reactions.

With the tower turned back round, Cleomenes and Dion were standing at the bottom with Paulina when she reminded them of the oracle’s prophecy; I was aware of the relevance of this, as they were the ones who had brought it from Delphi. She made “Stars, stars” each into a long cry, followed by a haunting “and all eyes else, dead coals!”

The next scene had the lords and Autolycus discussing the amazing events. The lords were smoking cigarettes (cigars last time?) and were very happy – not sure if there was champagne or not. Autolycus asked for information, and the others shared the narration of events. Cleomenes and Dion were the next arrivals with more information, and again they completed each other’s sentences. Antigonus’s fate was simply announced as “He was torn to pieces by a bear” which sobered everyone up for a moment, but then the lords burst out laughing (everyone laughed last time) and Cleomenes skipped over the loss of the ship and straight to Paulina’s reactions. Another lord arrived (the oracle-reader) with the news that the royal party was off to see the statue of Hermione, and they left. When Autolycus tried to go after them, one lord turned round and stopped him with a “No”, so he was left on stage to complain about his own honesty. When the shepherds arrived, the young shepherd was now wearing a wig – very entertaining – and it was this that Autolycus stole from him when they hugged.

The rest of the performance was as before, and it was again greeted with rapturous applause. We stayed on for the post-show – nothing more to add from what I’ve included in the notes – and were glad we had squeezed this one in again.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Tannahill Weavers – February 2013

Experience: 8/10

Venue: Hawth Studio, Crawley

Date: Wednesday 20th February 2013

This was our first time hearing the Tannahill Weavers in concert, and our first time in the Hawth Studio as well; both were very enjoyable. The sound balance wasn’t the best, but the overall effect was fine, and it was good to hear some new material (new to us) as well as some different takes on old favourites. The chat between the songs was good fun too; I especially liked the helpful hints on ways to cure seasickness.

During the introduction to one song – Are You Sleeping Maggie? – we learned that the band were named after Robert Tannahill, a poet and a weaver, who wrote many songs, some of which are in the band’s repertoire. I didn’t catch all the names of the tunes, but the first half went something like: tunes, song, song with audience participation, tunes, Are You Sleeping Maggie?, Jamie Raeburn’s Farewell, tunes – The Geese In The Bog and The Jig Of Slurs, another audience participation number, tunes, interval. Purchase of T-shirt and several CDs.

Second half: tunes, Welcome Royal Charlie, Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa’ (another Robert Tannahill song), tunes, When The Kye Come Hame (with audience), Come Ye By Atholl, tunes, Highland Laddie and tunes. The encore songs were Johnnie Cope, wrapped in some extra tunes, and Auld Lang Syne, the less well known version. We sang along as best we could, and a good time was had by all.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Vortex – February 2013

Experience: 7/10

By Noel Coward

Directed by Stephen Unwin

Venue: Rose Theatre

Date: Monday 18th February 2013

This is another good production by the Rose. It was a controversial play when first put on stage, but after nearly ninety years the adultery and drug-taking seem more appropriate to a soap opera, so the tension has to come from the relationships, and that depends heavily on the characterisations. The choices made in this production seemed to emphasise the comedy at the expense of the darker side, so while I accept this interpretation, I felt it was weaker than other productions we’ve seen. Still, it was an enjoyable evening, and I do think they deserve better audiences.

The set was nicely done. At the centre of the stage was a large square platform made to look like a blank canvas, thrust forward a few feet into the pit area. There were large studs round the sides and streaks of blue paint on the edges around the central acting space. Two corner pieces of a large picture frame were positioned above and behind – the one on the right leaned a little drunkenly inwards – while a small piece of frame was positioned just behind the platform at ground level.

The opening scene was set in Florence’s drawing room at the Lancaster’s town house. The furniture was rampantly 1920s Art Deco, with a red lips sofa, chairs and enormous stool seat. A gramophone and some records stood on the floor front left, and there were double doors standing in splendid isolation centre back. Other furnishings included a female nude lamp stand, period telephone and lots of cigarettes.

The second act was a similar room in the Lancaster’s country house, and the difference was telling. An old-fashioned fireplace stood centre back with two small padded stools in front, there was a piano on the right and a table with two chairs on the left. The style was much older and suggested a more traditional household. The third act, in Florence’s bedroom, was more flamboyant, with lots of cushions and throws. The bed was in the centre, with a dressing table to the right and a window back left.

The simplicity of the set was refreshing, and certainly allowed for quick changes, although as they took intervals between each act that wasn’t really an issue. I notice that many of the Rose’s own productions tend to use picture frames in one way or another, which raises the question in my mind of whether they’re truly comfortable with such an open space yet? Having said that, I’ve liked the sets very much, and while I prefer period pieces such as this play to have more elaborate sets, this one did the job very well.

The performances were all fine too. David Dawson was nicely nervy as the son, Nicky, while the young lover Tom, played by Jack Hawkins, was suitably virile. The two ‘sensible’ women, Helen and Bunty, were well portrayed by Rebecca Johnson and Sophie Rundle respectively. Coward packed this play with minor characters whom we don’t really get to know, and although the weekend party in the country would have been a bit thin without them, the poor actors don’t get much to do.  Even Florence’s husband is hardly to be seen, although William Chubb got across this poor chap’s unhappy personality very well in his short time on stage.

I felt the main weakness was in the portrayal of Florence, Nicky’s mother. Kerry Fox was fine with the early scenes, showing us her character’s shallowness and need to be admired by all and sundry. In the final scene, however, I felt there was no discernible change. She’s meant to be so shaken by discovering Tom’s ‘unfaithfulness’ (and just how can a lover be unfaithful to an adulterous wife?) that she almost breaks through her delusions to a more truthful existence. This just didn’t happen from where I was sitting. We seemed to be going through an interminable closet scene from Hamlet, with the arguments going round in circles and not reaching any definite resolution.

Both Steve and I felt this was a valid interpretation of the scene, showing a vicious circle in which nothing would have changed, but it wasn’t as strong a version as we’ve seen before. We didn’t feel the son was near to killing himself, so the tension just wasn’t there; perhaps they’ll tighten this up during the rest of the run.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Fairport Convention – February 2013

Experience: 9/10

Venue: The Maltings, Farnham

Date: Friday 15th February 2013

Another good start to the year, concert-wise. It was also our first trip to the Maltings, a lovely venue. The seats weren’t the most comfortable, but the performance was great and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

The support act for this tour was Fake Thackray, aka John Watterson, who performs Jake’s songs in Jake’s own style while adding touches of his own. The songs were: Bantam Cock, The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle, Dog, The Lodger and one about women talking too much. The Led Zeppelin homage blended almost seamlessly into one of the songs, and we were well warmed up by the time Fairport joined him for Sister Josephine. (He told us that the dog song hadn’t been recorded by Jake, but there’s a song called Dog available as a download; I presume it’s the same one.)

Fairport were in fine fettle tonight, and the introductions to the songs took even longer than usual. Simon and Chris sang really well, and Simon had some trouble with tuning his instruments, causing Danny Jack’s Reward to be restarted, twice, amid much laughter. The first half set was: John Gaudie, Honour and Praise, Albert & Ted, Fotheringay, Ancient Poacher, Rosie, Hexhamshire Lass and Walk Awhile, after which they took the interval. In the second half there was a strong nautical theme at the start, with Sir Patrick Spens being followed by Mercy Bay and The Wild Cape Horn. They didn’t mention the title of the next song – it was a traditional one from the album Angel Delight and was basically Peggy Gordon in a different dress – and that was followed by Festival Bell, Farewell Farewell, The Wood And The Wire, Doctor Of Physick, Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, Danny Jack’s Reward and Matty Groves. John Watterson joined them for the usual encore of Meet On The Ledge, and that was it (till the next time).

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Our Country’s Good – February 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Timberlake Wertenbaker

Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

Company: Out Of Joint

Venue: St James Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th February 2013

We were keen to see this revival by the same director as the original production at the Royal Court, and having seen a touring production last year as well, the play was fresh in our minds. This set was more stable and more compact than the previous touring one, but essentially the same. The stage had been extended to meet the third row of the seating, with only a few seats of the first two rows left round each side. In the centre stood a shallow square platform which could be moved forward and back, and on top of this was a large box with two half-lids which was used in all sorts of ways. Over this platform was a stout wooden framework which held the curtains and backdrops for both the ‘live’ action and the play-within-a-play. The use of pulleys and ropes along with the rough wood evoked the sense of a makeshift building, appropriate for a new colony. To either side at the back was a wooden door, and additional boxes and some furniture were added as needed. Costumes were the usual mix – tatty civilian clothes for the prisoners and splendid uniforms for the officers.

The story was told much as before, though there was a lighter touch today which only served to emphasise the darker aspects. The flogging scene at the start was staged with the floggee off stage to the left, and while the rest of the convicts huddled in the open box on the platform, the flogger ran across the back of the stage to get some welly behind the stroke. One of the officers stood by the front of the platform keeping count, and it was darkly funny. Not so funny when the poor chap was brought on stage, bleeding and unable to stand. This sort of mix went all through the performance, and I felt it worked well. I also spotted the brief, often one word introductions to some scenes; either I missed this last time or didn’t note it up. The aborigine didn’t look as sick towards the end of the play as in the previous production at the Rose, so that point didn’t come across as strongly, but otherwise the sense of brutality and the liberating effect of performance were as good as before.

The whole ensemble were very good, playing their multiple parts well, including Dominic Thorburn who was only playing Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark. I particularly liked Matthew Needham as Robert Sideway, the pickpocket who’s exceedingly keen to act in the play and who does his best to imitate the acting style of the day – very funny.

There were fewer songs this time around, and I realised that the problem I’d had with understanding some of the dialogue last time was because the characters used slang a lot of the time, especially when Liz Morden was describing her experiences. We’re not seeing The Recruiting Officer again this time around, as nobody’s thought to stage it for us – shame – but fortunately this play works very well on its own.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me